Manitoba

Winnipeg councillors back call for ethical supervision

The City of Winnipeg wants someone to keep tabs on its integrity. After a heated debate, city councillors narrowly passed a motion on Wednesday requesting more ethical supervision at city hall.

The City of Winnipeg wants someone to keep tabs on its integrity.

After a heated debate, city councillors narrowly passed a motion on Wednesday requesting more ethical supervision at city hall. Mayor Sam Katz wound up on the losing side of the 7-6 vote, which was sparked by a controversy last year involving him.

The motion, addressing conflict-of-interest issues, is rooted in a parking lot near The Forks. The Winnipeg Goldeyes minor-league baseball team, whose majority owner is Katz, used a parcel of city-owned land near their home field, Canwest Park, for parking between 2001 and 2004 without paying any taxes or lease payments on it.

Until about a year ago, Katz was also a board member of Riverside Park Management, which manages the ballpark and parking lot.

In September 2008, Ray Klassen, manager of the city's real estate division, told CBC News the city did not legally establish the parking lot's parcel of land until 2005 because of many construction projects going on in the area. Because there was no legal assessment, Riverside Park Management (RPM) had "no obligation" to pay taxes or lease payments on the land.

Therefore, it's possible Goldeyes fans were charged to park on the land, even though RPM was paying virtually nothing for the land, said Klassen, who called it an unintentional oversight.

"This is taking positive action and seeing councillors support that, I think increases the public confidence in those councillors who are prepared to take action," Coun. Genny Gerbasi, who wrote and presented Wednesday's motion, said after it was passed.

The city will now ask the province to examine conflict-of-interest rules and create an independent ethics commissioner.

Vote outcome a surprise

The motion's success was a surprise, because it received the support of two councillors, Jeff Browaty and Scott Fielding, who traditionally side with the mayor.

Fielding told CBC he voted for Gerbasi's motion because he wanted to promote accountability. He had fought for a similar ethics-focused motion some time ago, but it died on the floor of council chambers.

Katz said he voted against the motion because he felt it didn't go far enough. It applies only to elected officials, whereas Katz wanted all municipal employees to be subject to it as well.