The Black Rod

The origin of the Usher of the Black Rod goes back to early fourteenth century England . Today, with no royal duties to perform, the Usher knocks on the doors of the House of Commons with the Black Rod at the start of Parliament to summon the members. The rod is a symbol for the authority of debate in the upper house. We of The Black Rod have since 2005, adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

We are citizen journalists in Winnipeg. When not breaking exclusive stories, we analyze news coverage by the mainstream media and highlight bias, ignorance, incompetence, flawed logic, missed angles and, where warranted, good work. We serve as the only overall news monitors in the province of Manitoba. We do the same with politicians (who require even more monitoring.) EMAIL:

Friday, February 01, 2013

Paula Havixbeck---Sam Katz's worst nightmare---a smart, brave woman who puts taxpayers first.

Winnipeg city councillor Paula Havixbeck has had a target on her back since October. So her vindictive removal from the mayor's coveted executive policy committee came as no real surprise. It had just been a question of when.

October, that's when the rookie councillor did the unthinkable. She stood up to council's bully twins--Mayor Sam Katz and his closest friend city CAO Phil Sheegl.

Katz and Sheegl were then furiously trying to cover-up the scandal of how the company owned by Katz's business partner and other close pal Sandy Shindleman wound up with $14 million in city contracts to build four new firehalls without anybody on council knowing about it.

"What's the big deal? Everybody knew," was Katz's first try to put the fire out.

Everybody did know the firehalls were being built, but the name of the contractor was kept a deep, dark secret by then-deputy Fire Chief Reid Douglas, who had inexplicably gone behind council's back to split up the single contract for four firehalls that they expected into four contracts for one firehall each to hide the name of contractor Shindico.

Oh, and he approved Shindico's construction of a firehall on land the city didn't own, but Shindico did, on the strength of a secret land swap which he negotiated and expected city council to rubber stamp because the fire station would by then be built, operating and paid for.

Havixbeck wasn't having any of it.

She started asking pointed questions about who knew what about the firehall contracts. And she was stonewalled. By Sheegl. By Reid Douglas. By the mayor. And by everyone else in the city bureaucracy.

So she did the unheard-of. As chairman of the city's protection committee, she called a special meeting and summoned Phil Sheegl, Reid Douglas (promoted to Fire Chief) and Chief Operating Officer Depak Joshi to answer questions.

She didn't get many answers. It turned out Sheegl, the most senior bureaucrat in the city, didn't know anything about anything. He was too busy overseeing and not micromanaging $14 million dollar contracts.

Douglas and Joshi only raised more questions with their non-answers.

Sheegl was humiliated at being treated like, well, just a bureaucrat and not the giant intellect he thinks he is. Katz struck back quickly. He removed Paula Havixbeck from the Protection Committee chair to send a message to anyone else thinking of challenging him and his buddy.

But Havixbeck's hearing invigorated city council. The usual torpid councillors stirred to life.

Far from being intimidated, they were inspired. Before the year was out, it was a full scale council revolt. Councillors forced the mayor to approve an audit of the firehall deal plus a separate audit of all property deals conducted by the city going back as far as five years.

Katz was humiliated in turn, having to vote in favour of the very audits he opposed publicly for months. Sheegl sat stone-faced behind him in council and plotted revenge.

That revenge came this week when Katz finally saw his chance to punish Paula Havixbeck.

He removed her from EPC. He then spent the day smearing her for reporters by claiming she kept flip-flopping on issues and he couldn't trust her anymore.

That charge would have more impact if Katz had any credibility left.

It hurt to write that because we've been among his biggest supporters, coming to his defence each time the Winnipeg Free Press unfairly attacked him. But he's become undefensible.

Sam Katz's own record of flipflops includes opposing an audit of the firehall deal before voting for it, and running an election on a pledge to avoid raising taxes followed by a steady increase in taxes each year after his win with promises of constant tax increases for years ahead.

But then Katz doesn't care about consistency. He's not running for mayor again.

Katz is smart enough to know he's done like dinner in this city. Glen Murray, he of multiple chins, would beat Sam Katz in an election in a heartbeat if he came back to town. Former candidate Maryann Mihaychuk would beat him easily. Even Judy Wasylycia-Leis would turn an election into a race too close to call depending on whether voters hate Katz more than the NDP.

C'mon. He can't wait to get out of here. He's just sticking around to keep a lid on the firehall scandal as long as he can before he and Sheegl fly away to Scottsdale, Arizona where they've both built or bought homes and can engage in busin - em, retire.

Who wants to stay and face awkward questions about how he managed to acquire a million-dollar house for $10 from the chief financial officer of Shindico?

Katz has the EPC he wants. All men. A strong woman's view is not welcomed or wanted. Havixbeck's replacement Brian Mayes was positively elated to become a yes-man.

What did Havixbeck do to push Katz to pull the trigger? She refused to roll over and support unquestioningly the tax increases he wants to push down peoples' throats.

The public doesn't know how strongly she fought to hold the line.
She came to EPC with detailed arguments on how to find all the money the higher taxes would raise out of existing sources---and even give taxpayers a rebate.

That's right. No tax increase necessary and the possibility of a small tax holiday.

Her fellow committee members wouldn't even listen to her ideas.  And the MSM reporters can't be bothered to detail her tax savings plans.

The budget passed. It's over. Nothing to see here. We can go back to covering the cat bylaw.

But Havixbeck is still on council. As Margaret Thatcher said, this lady's not for turning. A mother of two raising her children alone, by getting booted from EPC she's lost $22,000 a year in extra pay for sticking to her principles.
Sam Katz, though, forgot Machiavelli's number one lesson for how to be a dictator: keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

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