City hall seeks integrity commissioner to advise mayor, council

The City of Winnipeg is searching for an integrity commissioner who will provide ethical advice to the mayor and council, investigate complaints and develop a new code of conduct for elected officials.

Job advising mayor and council 'has been a long time coming,' says Mayor Brian Bowman

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman tells the CBC's Bartley Kives about city council's new moral compass. 0:35

If you think you have what it takes to serve as the moral compass ​for Winnipeg's mayor and council, then city hall may just have a job for you.

The City of Winnipeg is searching for an integrity commissioner who will provide ethical advice to the mayor and council, investigate complaints and develop a new code of conduct for elected officials.

The position, which was approved by city council in December, comes with a $25,000-a-year retainer and a $200-an-hour wage, according to the official posting for the job. 

Candidates must be able to demonstrate a record of impartiality and must not be a member of any political party, at any level of government, according to the posting. They must also have knowledge of municipal conflict-of-interest legislation, investigative techniques and writing reports.

The posting allows for a team of people to apply for the position of integrity commissioner, an idea that council batted around for seven years before approving.

"This is something I agree has been a  long time coming," Mayor Brian Bowman said in an interview. "It signals a higher, hopefully ethical standard at city hall and is certainly something that should improve our openness and transparency in our governance."

Eight years in the making

The idea of creating an ethics commissioner was first raised by Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry Coun. Jenny Gerbasi in the spring of 2008, after the city hired Phil Sheegl, a friend of then-mayor Sam Katz, as its new director of planning, property and development.

That call was repeated that summer, when council voted to amend the terms of a city parking lot lease in a manner that effectively forgave $230,000 worth of rent owed to a non-profit organization that sublets land to the Katz-owned Winnipeg Goldeyes baseball club.

Over the next seven years, council intermittently debated the idea of creating an ethics commissioner but got hung up over the question of whether or not the city had the power to do so on its own. 

The integrity commissioner won't have all the powers envisioned by some councillors, but, nonetheless, will help make Winnipeg more open and transparent, Bowman said.

​"Having an integrity commissioner that is available to council, to investigate, to advise and to really provide that sort of counsel to council on matters including conflict of interest is something that should assist us at being proactive," he said. 

"[It] should also be something that in the event that there are transgressions, assist council to really keep a higher standard than we've seen in the past."

During the final years of the Katz administration, city hall was rocked by a series of real-estate and construction scandals. including the construction of Winnipeg's new police headquarters, which remains under RCMP investigation.

The job posting for integrity commissioner closes on July 15. Bowman said council could make a decision about the job as soon as September.

The successful candidate will be appointed to a two-year term, with an option of being renewed for up to five additional two-year terms.

    About the Author

    Bartley Kives

    Reporter, CBC Manitoba

    Before joining CBC Manitoba, Bartley Kives spent most of his career in journalism at the Winnipeg Free Press, covering politics, music, food, the environment and outdoor recreation. He's the author of the Canadian bestseller A Daytripper's Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada's Undiscovered Province and co-author of Stuck in the Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg. His work has also appeared in publications such as the Guardian and Explore magazine.