A plan to install poop-bag dispensers at the Kilcona off-leash dog park is now in the hands of the city's top bureaucrat.
The fact that chief administrative officer Doug McNeil is involved in that kind of decision has the head of the Kilcona Park Dog Club barking mad.
The issue is not so much the dispensers themselves, but attached signs recognizing a sponsor that helped make the plan come together.
"When the city's top civil servant has to approve signs for poop-bag dispensers in a dog park, something needs to change there. There is a big problem with that," Donna Henry, president of the Kilcona Park Dog Club, told CBC News.
Senior bureaucrat approval is the latest in a long series of hurdles that have put a leash on plans to install six poop-bag dispensers in the park.
Around two years ago, the dog club proposed the plan. The dispensers would help dog owners pick up the mess their canines left behind and keep the park clean. Organizers found a corporate sponsor that would help purchase the dispensers and pay for an ongoing supply of poop-bags.
Henry says around 18 months ago, the dog club was told by a park superintendent it would be simple for the city to sign off on the type of dispensers, pick the locations and approve the gift.
But as the plan rolled along, things got complicated.
City paws back support
Henry said parks staff started to have a "lukewarm response" to the idea after balking at the idea city employees would have to top up the poop-bag dispensers and doubting the city would have the resources to pay staff to resupply the units, even though the sponsor had agreed to pay for the bags.
The dog club was also required to find a city-approved contractor to install the posts that the dispensers would hang on, but bureaucrats wouldn't supply a list of who qualified for the work.
Undaunted, the dog club sleuthed out the appropriate contractor, completed the deal with the sponsor, convinced three area councillors (Jeff Browaty, Jason Schreyer and Russ Wyatt) to kick in some extra money and paid to have custom signs manufactured. The dog club and the corporate sponsor would cover half the cost, and the cash from the councillors would cover the rest.
But Henry said at this point the dog club "started to get some strange responses" from city staff. Information provided in the past was re-requested. It became evident the city wasn't happy with the wording on the sign that would be attached to the poop-bag dispensers.
The signs would read, "Donated by Kilcona Park Dog Club and (sponsor's name)."
Henry said she was told by city staff that the wording wouldn't fly. The city wanted the signs to read, "Donated by Kilcona Park Dog Club with generous support from (sponsor's name)."
Henry said the watered-down version of the sign wasn't fair to the sponsor. As well, she said another city organization, Sponsor Winnipeg, somehow became involved. The program offers naming rights to foundations, companies and individuals.
Time was ticking. The dog club had applied and received a permit from Manitoba Hydro to dig holes for the posts on which the dispensers would be installed. That permit expires today and the city won't let the dispensers go up with the signs worded as the dog club wants.
Dispensers can go up — without signs
Earlier this week, the poop-bag dispenser controversy was on agenda of the protection and community services committee of city hall.
Acting director of public works Lester Deane acknowledged the dog club's frustration and told the committee they would approve the installation of the dispensers — without the signs.
Deane told the committee that "all signs installed in a city-owned park must be approved by the CAO," and said there were concerns about sponsorship agreements.
Deane added that he was "mindful of the concern about all the red tape."
"We are asking, going forward, that the CAO consider delegating that authority to the director of the department so that we can remove some of the red tape," he said.
Henry calls the whole situation "a blind bureaucracy run amok."
"I can't understand why these roadblocks are in place. It shouldn't be this hard for a not-for-profit organization; it shouldn't be this hard for a well-meaning business to participate and give back to the community," she said.
Wyatt, who represents the Transcona ward, sits on the committee and expressed disbelief at the situation.
"I am amazed we are sitting here talking about this," Wyatt told the committee.
"The amount of time we are taking and the public service here to address this issue is worth more than the $1,800 for the actual poop dispensers. We could probably put up another six by now."
Henry said plans for a celebration to honour the sponsor and unveil the dispensers is on hold until McNeil, the CAO, signs off on the signs.