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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