Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Manitoba Links Weekly: The Election's One Year From Now, Here's a Personnel Update and a Reader's Guide to the Audit, Let's "Get It Done" (ManLinkWeek S02E01)

Hello, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to Season Two of Manitoba Links Weekly! Local and provincial matters of interest, seven articles or subjects per installment, one installment each calendar week. And with 52 weeks remaining until the next civic election -- Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014 -- this seems as fine a time as any to dust the format off and get back into the swing of things.

I think you know what the biggest story is, of course:

[ City of Winnipeg: October 21, 2013 Executive Policy Committee Special Meeting Minutes ]
[ Winnipeg Free Press: Fire-paramedic station review reveals serious mismanagement at city hall ]
[ 680 CJOB: Fire Hall Audit Points Fingers, City Accepts Recommendations ]
[ Winnipeg Sun: Audit adds fuel to the fire hall scandal ]
[ Winnipeg Free Press: Sheegl a big part of city's project, despite his claim ]
[ Brian Kelcey (Winnipeg Sun): The audit that didn't have to be ]

Happy Audit Day, one and all!

Yes, Monday and Tuesday of this week were a two-day festival of malfeasance here in our fair city, as the long-awaited, long-delayed fire hall land-swap audit report finally came in -- as the kids say these days -- like a wrecking ball. (Monday and Tuesday were also the days that the ever-encroaching brown water problem finally manifested at City Hall; if I'd tried to write that as fiction, readers would reject it as too convenient a symbolic coincidence. It's a funny world we live in.)

I've included some very effective summaries above, but I highly encourage and highly recommend reading the audit for yourself; downloadable PDF mirror copies are here and here, for your perusal and/or printing. I can understand how the 152-page heft may seem intimidating at first, but don't worry; Appendix F takes up more than a third of the document, and you'll only need to read through that if you want to see just how hard the City tried to keep the shady nature of the contract-splitting out of the final report.

Appendix F is over sixty pages of meticulous hair-splitting and shameless time-buying from "City Management", and I will let you guess for yourself who that might have been, each point and line then argued or refuted by a clearly unimpressed auditor. You'll get a kick out of Appendix F if you like going to Wikipedia for the edit wars, is what I'm getting at.

But this also serves to render Appendix F a long and elaborate setup for the punchline of Appendix G, when Reid Douglas comes to bat with twenty concerns and Ernst-Young blows off nineteen of them with a curt "No Change". (And the remaining one with a single "Change Made".) Sixty-some pages of City Management handling every single point and detail, then four pages of the Fire Chief tagging along as an accessory; the Appendices make for a surprisingly effective microcosm summary of the report's findings, when you think about it.

So let's help you get the most out of it, you time-sensitive reader, you! This is exactly what executive summaries were designed for, in fact, so give Section 2 -- Executive Summary and Recommendations -- the ten-page read it deserves as your starting point. The 2.1 Summary Chronology is then a natural connecting point to the Appendix B Summary of Significant Chronological Events; the latter is also where all of the juicy, hilarious, depressing email exchanges are kept, so you'll most definitely want to give that a full read. (This was also how I discovered that Phil Sheegl types seriously the way I type jokingly. WE ARE DOING THE ALTERNATE PLAN WE HAVE NO CHOICE)

While I'm hesitant to spoil too much of the experience for you -- your money paid for it, you oughtta enjoy it -- I'll give you some fun readers'-guide starting points to keep in mind throughout.

* The phrase "Get it done" appears five times in the document. Take the time to admire and delight in each instance.

* Whenever you encounter the phrase "we note that" opening a point, mentally replace it with the phrase "get this shit, though: ". It works beautifully in most (though alas not all) instances, and feels more in line with what the auditors wanted to get across.

* The Taylor fire hall built on land the City doesn't own -- you guessed pretty quickly who owns the land, didn't you -- could have potentially been built instead on land that the City does own, just down the road on Taylor. How close are the two Taylor sites to each other? For that answer, you're going to want to check Appendix H. No, listen -- you're really, really going to want to check Appendix H. Someone wanted to make a point. (And two points make a line.)

* For a fun challenge, keep a sidebar -- physically or mentally -- of what the Mulvey land is worth at various points in the timeline. (And also when, exactly, they bothered to first start checking.) You will note some, shall we say, fluctuations.

* As you'll discover for yourself in Appendix B, the Corporate Finance Department and the CFO finally start sniffing around on September 18th, 19th and 20th of last year; my marginalia for September 19th, in particular, is a bunch of arrows and the words "these are some good-ass questions" in red ink. Neither Corporate Finance nor the CFO appear again after that point.

* Remember how suspicious it looked that a single large contract, subject to council approval and oversight, was instead surreptitiously broken up into four single-sourced contracts? Well, it ended up not being four contracts; it ended up being five contracts. And the reason for that, as you'll discover, is every bit as suspicious as you think.

* Also, remember the seven-senior-staff press conference last August, when the city's highest bureaucrats gathered in solidarity to insist that nothing at all was amiss? Those seven staff were "the chief administrative officer, chief financial officer, fire-paramedic chief, solicitor, chief operations officer, property director and corporate-finance materials manager". So, for a fun home game, keep an eye out for when and how each player pops up.

Two of those seven senior administrators, of course, are now departed. So let's go to the updates on that file:

[ Metro Winnipeg: Update: Winnipeg CAO Phil Sheegl resigns, COO Deepak Joshi to take over ]
[ Winnipeg Sun: Phil Sheegl’s buyout: $242,000 ]
[ Winnipeg Free Press: New acting CAO named often in report on program ]

See No Audit, Hear No Audit, Especially Above All Else Speak No Audit.

Fire-paramedic chief Reid Douglas was fired for still-undeclared reasons, and has publicly stated that he received no severance; Chief Administrative Officer Phil Sheegl, facing the majority of the blame in an audit he had full access to before it officially released, resigned ahead of the fallout and collected $240,000 in severance for doing so; Chief Operating Officer Deepak Joshi, also implicated in the audit report, has now been chosen by council as interim Chief Administrative Officer. (No word on how long he has to serve before severance kicks in.) It's an... interesting council choice, and one that hasn't seemed to shore up a lot of confidence as yet.

But no, Phil Sheegl will not have to answer any questions about the audit, and no, the Mayor won't ask for the money back. No, Reid Douglas never did hear exactly why he was fired, and no, the Mayor won't give him his job back. So that, at least for now, is that.

I would say that the public reaction to these developments was "mixed", but I'd be lying. So let's take a moment, if you'll allow me a slight diversion, to compare and contrast the city's Big Two of mainstream talk-radio stations:

[ CBC Manitoba Marcy Markusa Blog: Winnipeg city hall: What should happen next? ] (original article title: "Winnipeggers deserve better than Mayor Sam Katz")
[ TheCharlesAdlerShow SoundCloud: Charles Adler Monologue: "I can’t put friendship above responsibility" ]

Diehard Katz Nation supporters -- and they are out there -- may well have scoffed at the CBC for forwarding this suggestion as a discussion topic. Because of course they would! These conservative-hatin', scapegoat-huntin' lefties in the Mother Corp, they never give the centre-right a fair shake; you know how they are. And with my tax dollars, at that! So Katz loyalists may well have instead flipped over to the reassuring comfort of CJOB, where they can expect to hea... where they can... where... oh my. Oh, my.

"I voted for Sam -- not once -- I voted for him three times! And so did most of you listening to my voice. And if there is a next time, I don't know who I'll be voting for. But I know who I won't be voting for. Sorry, Sam.

"I'm no different than anyone else in this town. We can only take so much horsecrap. Even from a person who I... have thought of as a friend for more than twenty-five years. Never thought I'd be saying these words, on CJOB.

"But I can't do to this audience what my old friend Sam did to our city. I cannot put friendship over responsibility.

If you listen to nothing else of Charles Adler this year -- if you listen to nothing else of Charles Adler ever, as some of you perhaps have vowed -- listen to this, his Dusty Rhodes Hard Times promo.

And I use that terminology both figuratively and literally; the last section of that monologue is about humble backgrounds and family pride and responsibility, which was very touching but then sort of ruined for me when he concluded with "My name is Charles Adler" and SoundCloud transitioned directly into:

You and I have some very different definitions of 'Related', SoundCloud.

Now, I've never once logged a vote for Katz, as you may possibly have been able to ascertain from previous writings, but I know how Charles Adler feels; I too have many times found myself forced to denounce the Mayor's actions on air, despite Sam Katz being my all-time second-favourite Mayor of Winnipeg. (Then who's number one, James?) Everyone else is tied.

BOOM! Ha haaaaaa! Ahhh, Vaudeville. Ahem.

Now, as Adler alludes to in that passage above, there's (still) no definitive word from the Mayor as to whether or not he will run for the top job once again next year. But we can expect the vast majority of council to seek re-election, which means it's time to check in on--

[ Winnipeg Sun: Lots of failing grades at Winnipeg City Hall ]


Unscientific, granted, but whoof, those poll results. Whooooooof, those poll results. The article weighs it as pass-fail to maintain a bit more intrigue, but for each and every person up and down the list -- plus the whole of them together as a group -- F beat every other option on the board, and by hilarious margins in most cases.

That said, of course, Winnipeg is a city of laziness incumbency; a seated councillor does not need to be beloved, or even liked, or even popularly tolerated to win reelection. A lot will depend on the final slates for each ward, and you may well yet see a great many of these apparently-detested councillors returning for action next year.

Except, of course, for Dan Vandal.

[ Winnipeg Free Press: Vandal looking to fight Glover ]
[ CBC Manitoba: Winnipeg councillor Dan Vandal sets sights on becoming MP ]

Yes, assuming Vandal does garner the federal Liberal nomination -- humour me my caveats on almost 100% sure things -- it'll be a showdown of tough-as-nails bilingual Metis star-candidates in 2015, and very possibly the province's single nastiest campaign in living memory. On a scale of one to ten, we will not be able to see the scale under the mud being slung. So that'll be something to watch.

The other side of this coin is that, with no incumbent in play next year should Vandal become the Liberal candidate, the St. Boniface ward is highly likely to explode with candidates from all various stripes and backgrounds. (Contrast the ward's electoral slates, and results, with Vandal and without Vandal in play.) I'm already hearing talk of certain candidates being groomed within the riding, but this is also a riding that once elected Franco Magnifico, so the only guarantee is that there are no guarantees. Drama and intrigue await!

Am I up to five already? My goodness! All right, I think you're all caught up on civic politics now, I think you get that it's going to be a heck of a year coming up. Let's shift gears, then, and close this bad boy out with some local historical and cultural news.

To wit:

[ Winnipeg Free Press: Lockport waterpark to be demolished by the end of the year ]
[ 680 CJOB: Safety Concerns Aren't Wet N' Wild ]

Alas, it's the end of an era! A long and fruitless era, the facility having been closed for eight years, but an era nonetheless. The slides have been a familiar piece of the scenery for a lifetime now, and I guess we'd all better get out there to get our last pictures of it while we can. We should all give it a nice sendoff, maybe plan a party in the parking lot or something. That'll be nice.

And, finally:

[ The Manitoban: The importance of campus radio ]

It's that time of year again, listeners and friends -- UMFM 101.5 needs your help to stay on the airwaves and bring you the alternative content you know and love! It's my favourite station, but then, I'm biased.

Speaking of which! Today is the very special Pledge-O-Rama, Audit-o-Rama, One-Year-to-the-Civic-Election episode of Winnipeg Internet Pundits; you can tune in here at 5:30 PM, or line up 101.5 on your FM dial. We'll be talking about a lot of the topics you've just seen above, as well as some grocery news (more on that later) and everything else you've come to expect. (We'll be at The Hub next door after the show, too, if you want to say hi.)

Thank you for reading ManLinkWeek! I'll see you back here next week, and every week for the next year. It's going to be a big one!


The Analyst said...

Wow. Who'd have thunk that Sun readers would hate Jenny Gerbasi & Ross Eadie!

Someone should probably tell the Sun writers, particularly Brodbeck, that reckless outer suburbs like Ridgewood South are why we can't have nice roads.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for providing a link to the actual fire hall audit. No mainstream media outlet has done that that I know of. Will bookmark your site.