A Dangerous Convergence of Power and Authority

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Who will be the next Mini Me?

The Ernst and Young audit report on the fire halls fiasco has finally seen the light of day.  It doesn’t look pretty and it emanates a distinctly unpleasant odor, an odor of rot festering in the political and administrative bowels of power at City Hall.

The report outlines a number of concerns that deal with administrative process and oversight but the most concerning issues identified (albeit process-related) strike at the very heart of the free enterprise system as well as citizen and business trust.

The city is not in a position to perform much of the work on projects it finances and thus hires contractors to perform those tasks.  That process of hiring such contractors must be fair and equitable and put all bidders on an equal footing.

At the core of many municipal corruption scandals is the bypassing of such processes.  Some bidders are given, or gain an unfair advantage by having access to confidential information not available to other bidders.  According to the Ernst and Young report Shindico had such an advantage in the case at hand.

In most cases where one party gains an unfair advantage they will realize an increase in profits and reciprocate with some form of quid pro quo.   Usually, when what amounts to industrial intelligence flows one way, kickbacks flow the other way.  The Charbonneau Commission in Quebec emphasizes that point.  The Ernst and Young report does not suggest there were any kickbacks in the fire halls fiasco.

Determination of whether there was any guid pro quo goes beyond the scope of an audit and would require an in-depth criminal investigation or a Commission of Inquiry.   It would be highly unusual for any of the principals at the heart of an audit to come out and make a ‘mea culpa’ declaration.

What is Power?

Power is the ability to influence the actions of others.  An example of the exercise of power could be a municipal mayor (Sam) who, when selecting a CAO, prevailing on the other members of the selection committee (EPC) to select the candidate of his choice.  In such an instance the mayor does not have the authority to order members of EPC to take a particular position, but he,  none the less has power as he controls appointments to the committee.

What is Authority?

Authority is the legal right to act.  In the case at hand the CAO is given legal authority to undertake a wide variety of actions on behalf of the City under guidelines laid down by Council.

Concentration of Power and Authority

When Phil Sheegle was appointed CAO the Mayor bristled at the suggestion he was not qualified to perform the function.   The Ernst and Young report suggests the mayor’s detractors were spot on.  As well the mayor would have us believe that he and the former CAO, although they are close friends do not have discussions about city related issues like the fire hall fiasco and the related land swaps.  Do these two buddies look like they hold much back from each other?

Sam and Phil

It is clear that when the mayor appoints a ‘mini me’ CAO there is a dangerous convergence of power and authority.  It puts the mayor in the position wielding political power, as well as administrative authority by proxy.

The Next Mini Me

The mayor has already indicated that his choice to fill the CAO’s chair in an acting capacity is Deepak Joshi – yes the same Deepak Joshi named in the Ernst and Young Report.  One would have hoped that the members of EPC would have learned from the last appointment that the mayor’s choice may not be the best choice.  We cannot afford another mini me CAO.

What’s to be done?

It’s time that Winnipegers wake up to the realization that Mayor Katz may actually have been truthful when he said that he was a businessman and not a politician.  The problem may be that he views the City of Winnipeg as his business, his own little fiefdom, putting in place cronies to help him run ‘his business’.  That begs the question, to whose benefit is the city being run, the citizens’ benefit or the mayor’s benefit?  To a degree we are all responsible for what is happening at City Hall:  we elected Sam Katz, not once but several times.  It may be time for like-minded people to get together and initiate a movement under the banner “ANYONE BUT SAM” and clean up the mess at City Hall.

 

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2 comments on “A Dangerous Convergence of Power and Authority

  1. SYSOP says:

    For far too long a select inner circle of Winnipeg “businessmen” have been raiding the pockets of taxpayers in all manner of business interest, and it’s long past time that door was closed firmly once and for all – regardless of calculations (explanations/excuses) of short or long term net public benefit.

    Your comment about Katz regarding the City of Winnipeg as his personal business is spot on, and something that was identified and typified by what happened many years ago with Jack Shapiro and Rainbow stage. It’s all part and parcel of many high profile people in this community living a life style, and conducting business on OPM – other people’s money. As they age they become fixated on micro managing something they know they can control somewhat better than other aspects of their existence and it becomes an obsession.

    Unfortunately the same principle, or lack there of, has also infected our political process where it seems to be an accepted standard that what should be a relatively shirt term contribution/service to the well being of the society we live in has become a way of life or profession where the mentality exists that no one else can do as good and effective a job as the current office holders. The “if you only knew the history and background of the subject as I do, then you’d understand” syndrome.

    Combining the two failings is a sure fire recipe for social disaster, that leads to a loss of faith and distrust of all who attempt to serve no matter how noble their original intentions may or may not be.

    The key to unraveling what our civic government has become is to roll back the City of Winnipeg Act back to the days of it’s creation. We do not need the form of government at the civic level that exists at the federal and provincial levels and it should remain as close to grass roots as possible.

    The task of mayor should be nothing more than a ceremonial role as diplomat and ambassador for the city, and chairing the meeting of Council as a whole as it once was. To say that it leaves the Mayor’s office powerless is to not understand how adept Steve Juba was at influencing civic policy.

    Our Councillors are as much to blame for events because for whatever reason, be it laziness, lack of interest or just stupidity it’s obvious that many of them have no idea what they are voting on and what the true implications are – take for example the $10,000 fee to condo buyers.

    We have bylaws that have been enacted in the current term of elected officials and yet they ask why people are not allowed in parks after 10 PM, and they are totally ignorant that it’s not only set out in a recent by-law but that they have chosen to assign the responsibility of the hours of operation over to the Chief Administrative Officer of the City.

    It’s a farce for Councillors to claim they had concerns about Sheegl’s qualifications, and yet willingly abdicate their role and responsibility to him, without any real public accountability, then publicly question why he has that power. Unfortunately that assignment of responsibility is not unique.

    We have people like Deputy Mayor Russ Wyatt who not only has and unlisted telephone number, but refuses to divulge where he actually lives to the voters of his ward. If you call his office you will have to deal through a third party assistant. That is absurd when the usual response from that person is to call 311 on lodge a complaint.

    No, Menno, there’s far more wrong with this Civic Government than our Mayor and CAO. Maybe it’s just too much “old school” thinking that our civic and political leaders should earn the respect to wield power, and have no right to demand that they have both respect and power automatically.

  2. Cliff says:

    Your characterization of the goings on at City Hall seems plausible indeed. If one was to search for the “orginal sin” that precipitated the current sad state of affairs one need not go further back in history than to the reign of Susan Thompson and her hired gun George Cuff. It was Cuff who recommended and Susan who put in place the “strong mayor” governance model we now enjoy. At the time to the mayor and to many others this seemed like a great idea.

    There can be no doubt that this model is deadly in its efficiency. With the right folks at the helm the strong mayor model can be employed to make good things happen right smartly. The risk was and is that without effective political controls will the right things get done and will they get done right. There is a clear danger that the democratic checks and balances we expect in government may be set aside from time to time (or regularly) ostensibly in the interests of getting things done. An apparent example of a worst case scenario has now played out before our eyes. Did not take long did it.

    Replacing Sam with anybody else might well be a good idea but doing so will not by itself be enough to prevent similar scenarios from playing out in the future. The governance model itself needs to change to one of a slightly more democratic nature.

    My humble suggestion for a minor, but I believe significant, tweak would be to have the Committee chairs and by extension Executive Policy Committee be elected by Council at large rather than be appointed by the Mayor. It seems to me that by this simple expedient the power brokers at City Hall would be beholden to their fellow Councillors for their perks an privileges rather than to the Mayor. It follows that the CAO would also clearly understand that he or she was accountable to Council as a whole rather than de facto to the Mayor alone. The effect of this simple change would be profound.

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