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 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:

Monday, October 28, 2013

About that million dollar house you bought for $10, Mr.Mayor.

Almost a year ago, Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz was cocky, cold, and curt when the press discovered that he bought a house in a suburb of Phoenix,  Arizona, from Winnipeg developer Sandy Shindleman's sister-in-law.

The sparse and only record of the sale states that Katz paid $10 for the house valued at almost a million dollars. Terri Nordstrom, sister of Shindleman's wife, filed a "special warranty deed" in Colorado, where she lives, giving the price, and the Maricopa County Assessor's Office in Arizona provided an assessed value of the property.

(The Maricopa County Treasurer's office currently shows Katz hasn't paid his 2013 taxes, $7509 owed, which were due Oct. 1, 2013.)

Katz refused to answer questions about the house, other than to repeat like a broken record that he had paid "fair market value". It was a private matter and nobody's business how he knew Terri Nordstrom, when he paid for the house, and why tax bills were sent to his home in Winnipeg instead of Terri's home in either Scottsdale, Arizona, or Colorado. And why did she buy a $1.5 million house - - for cash, yet -- in Scottsdale, when she lives in Colorado, and then sell it four years later for $10?

Katz would only say that he was so filthy rich that he could drop a reported million cash on the Scottsdale house if he wanted to.  Being mayor must be lucrative because when he bought a house in Arizona in 2004, before becoming Mayor in a by-election, he had to take on a $749,000 mortgage. In 2012, cash was no object. the ensuing year and a bit, things have changed.  A lot.  Now, the purchase of that house is our business. It has become our business. And the mayor MUST cough up some answers.

Everything changed with the recent Firehall audit. 

The auditors determined that Winnipeg's top administrator, Phil Sheegl, gave preferential treatment to Shindico, the development company owned by Sandy Shindleman, in handing out a contract worth well over $15 million to build four new firehalls. He then hid the information from city council and the public. You'll find details of how Sam Katz worked hard to further the cover-up of Sheegl's finagling here:

Katz is inextricably tied to Sheegl's transgressions. Each is the other's alter ego. When promoting his best friend to the job of Chief Administrative Officer, Katz got ugly and personal at Councillor Jenny Gerbasi who argued Sheegl wasn' qualified for the job.

"When it comes to ability, intelligence and integrity, Coun. Gerbasi wouldn't even qualify to be in the same building, let alone the same room, as Phil Sheegl." declared the Mayor.

With that, Katz personally vouched for Phil Sheegl and his integrity. When Sheegl was forced out of City Hall under a cloud, that cloud covered Sam Katz as well. And since the Mayor represents Winnipeg wherever he goes, any taint affecting him affects everyone.

And that means revisiting the questions about that house purchase. Winnipeg must be the only city in North America where the mayor can buy a house for either a pittance or a huge sum in cash---with only the barest paperwork -- from a relative of the wife of arguably the city's best known 
developer, and it's greeted as business as normal.

The purchase was coincidentally concluded only days before the Mayor announced that his best friend Phil Sheegl would join the city's Chief Financial Officer to review his own decision to give Katz's other friend and business partner the job of building four new fire halls. The duo prepared a report which was never issued because the city auditor refused to endorse it.

That refusal led to the audit that forced Sheegl's departure from City employment. In the interests of full disclosure, Katz should immediately release that Sheegl-Ruta review report so the public can see how Sheegl intended to justify the process of giving Shindico sole-sourced contracts worth millions.

Then he should give a full and open account of his purchase of that house in Scottsdale. Including the release of bank statements showing what he paid, when he paid and to whom he paid. He could also pay his back taxes to Mariposa County while he's at it.

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