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The Winnipeg Firehalls Fiasco: Only one man can get answers under oath. Guess who?

Let's sum up the reaction to the Winnipeg Firehalls audit:

*  Calls for a police investigation. The Taxpayers Federation has suggested the Winnipeg police or RCMP be involved.  The union that represents Winnipeg police added its voice to the idea, but says the RCMP should do it to avoid any hint of political interference.

*  Outside lawyers being brought in to take a second look at whether the audit indicates any illegal activity beyond the unethical preferential treatment that was uncovered. “I think that there (are) lingering questions that need to be answered,” said Coun. Scott Fielding, the chairman of the city's standing policy committee on protection and community services.

*  Renewed calls for the creation of an Ethics Commissioner for Winnipeg

*  Calls from other councillors -- and thousands of Winnipeggers -- for Mayor Sam Katz to quit

*  A plea from one city councillor, at least, for the province to intervene.

And that's on top of thousands of private conversations on how to fire the Mayor. Would a petition signed by tens of thousands do it? Can the Premier step in and dismiss a mayor? Is there any way to impeach him? (No...ed.)

The furor centers around three people. 

There's obviously Mayor Sam Katz. 

There's Sandy Shindleman, a friend of the mayor's who once proudly described himself as a founding partner in the Winnipeg Goldeyes Baseball Club’s Shaw Park in Winnipeg and who sat (and may still sit) as a director of Katz's Winnipeg Goldeyes Baseball Club Inc.  His company Shindico does a lot of business with the city. 

And, completing the circle, is Katz's best friend Phil Sheegl who was hired as the city's Chief Administrative Officer on the mayor's recommendation and personal endsement.

The audit found that Katz's best friend Sheegl secretly gave preferential treatment to Katz's business partner Shindleman's development company Shindico on the $15 million project to build four new fire stations. Sam Katz then did all he could to cover up Sheegl's actions and hide them from the public.

An observer might describe the trio as a cabal, which is defined as "a group of people united in some close design together, usually to promote their private views or interests...often by intrigue."

But certainly these three would be high up on a list of people who would be investigated by the aforementioned police and legal beagle reviews of the audit. You could add to that list the current Chief Operating Officer Deepak Joshi, CFO Mike Ruta, and Properties Manager Barry Thorgrimson, all of whom had a part in the secretive awarding of sole-sourced firehall contracts to Shindico.

You might even call the collection of names a shit list, which is defined ( as slang for a number of people or things regarded with contempt, distaste, disfavor, distrust, etc.: somewhat vulgar.  Distrust? Check. Disfavor? Check. Distaste. Check. Contempt? Maybe.

Is this beginning to sound familiar?

Last September, Gordon Warren, a frustrated citizen, put up posters around the city decrying alleged corruption at City Hall.  There's little difference between what he wrote on his posters and what police, politicians, and the people are saying today:

"Since Mayor Sam Katz was elected to office in 2004, hundreds of millions of dollars have been funneled from City Hall into the pockets of the following people, primarily through untendered contracts and shady land deals."

This is followed by a list of  13 names that Warren said he culled from news stories.

"The gross misconduct of the Mayor's office & City Hall has gone on for too long. Firegate is the final straw that will break their backs.

"Once the harsh lights of scrutiny of the Auditor General and the RCMP are turned towards City Hall, Sam Katz will be facing hard time at Stony Mountain and his cabal of cockroaches will be clutching their dirty money and running for cover."

Katz's defenders went ballistic. They ripped the posters down. They screamed anti-semitism. When it was pointed out that the names on the list were not all Jewish, they screeched that it didn't matter, all lists alleging corruption containing the names of Jews were anti-semitic. They demanded Warren be arrested.

When police announced the posters were not anti-semitic, millionaire Sandy Shindleman sued unemployed Gordon Warren for libel to silence him forever.

Well, it certainly looks like "Firegate is the final straw". Even before the Firehalls audit was released, Sheegl quit before he could be fired. Sam Katz's mayorality is on life support, at least until the next audit into the past five years of city real estate deals, comes out (and we've heard that it's going to be even worse than Firegate.) Leaving only Sandy Shindleman standing.

And, believe it or not, even  the Shindleman worm has turned.

While politicians and citizens run around trying to find someone to investigate deeper into the favoritism at City Hall, the ONLY person in Manitoba who can legally question Katz, Sheegl and Shindleman is --- wait for it ---- Gordon Warren.

As part of the lawsuit he can question them in the court discovery process. He can put them under oath. He can ask about those untendered firehall contracts, who knew what when, who made what decisions, who told the Mayor, or not.

The only hurdle is that Schindleman is a millionaire who can hire high-priced lawyers and Warren isn't and can't.

But ... what if authorities like, say, the city auditor or outside auditors Ernst and Young wanted answers, on the record, under threat of perjury.  They could cough up the money for an aggressive lawyer to question potential witnesses during discovery.

And everybody wins.

The Shindleman-Warren lawsuit is scheduled to start in late March.

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