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

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Friday, December 13, 2013

Phil Sheegl's co-conspirator tries to stifle further probes of city property scandals.

Winnipeg's top civil servant is trying to prevent a city councillor from digging deeper into the mismanagement and possible corruption behind two projects which have gone millions of dollars over budget. 

You have to wonder why.
Deepak Joshi, the fill-in Chief Administrative Officer, wrote a personal letter to Coun. Paula Havixbeck trying to intimidate her into silence over her persistance in getting to the bottom of the firehalls scandal, in which Joshi was involved up to his eyebrows, and the disastrous project to turn the downtown post office into a new headquarters for the police department.
Joshi was the city's Director of Planning, Property and Development (oh, the irony) when the twin fiascos of the firehalls and police HQ were unfolding. He was appointed Chief Operating Officer in 2011 by then CAO Phil Sheegl, who said in a news release:

"I'm making these changes to clarify the roles and responsibilities of senior management, provide better service to Council and citizens, and provide better direction and support to staff," Sheegl said. "I am confident it will be a clearer, more effective way of doing business."

It would be funny in hindsight, if it wasn't so tragic.

Sheegl was last seen sneaking out of city hall on the eve of the audit into the firehalls scandal before he would surely have been fired, if not investigated by the police.  The audit concluded Sheegl, Mayor Sam Katz's best friend, gave preferential treatment to the construction firm Shindico, co-owned by Katz's friend and business partner Sandy Shindleman. Sheegl used loopholes in city regulations to secretly hire Shindico to build all four new firehalls, even though they failed to win a single tender. He then kept the information from city council despite a clear directive to inform council on who got the job.

Katz subsequently bought a house in Arizona from the sister of a Shindico executive.  Records show he paid $10 for the million-dollar house. He claims he paid the rest in cash, but refuses to provide any receipts, bank withdrawal statements or other paper records. He says its nobody's business.

Joshi was Sheegl's shadow the entire time the firehalls were being built and he's mentioned prominently in the damning firehalls audit. 

He was front and centre in the cover-up that followed after the Shindico favoritism began to unravel. 

He openly lied to the public, as Winnipeg Free Press reporter Barley Kives stated bluntly after learning how the facts diverged from what Joshi, Sheegl and four other city officials insisted was true during an unprecedented joint news conference that was called in hopes of forestalling any audit.

And he refused to help Coun. Paula Havixbeck get answers to who was responsible for what when she, then the chairwoman of council's Protection Committee, summoned him and Sheegl before her committee and grilled them in public. 

Gee, do you think he holds a grudge?

The audit into the firehalls mess found that Joshi
- was kept informed with construction updates,
- that he provided little to no oversight,
- that he knew Shindico was building a fire station on Taylor Avenue on land the city did not own,
- that he knew all about the land swap arranged with Shindico even though city council hadn't declared the land being swapped as surplus,
- that construction of a fire hall in St. James had begun without a contract in place, and
- that a financial disaster was unfolding in front of his eyes as spelled out by this memo from Materials Management at about the time reporters had glommed on to the secret land swap:
"For everyone’s sake and peace of mind, we need to determine the approvals that are in place, or not, for these Fire Stations.
This topic was briefly discussed at the CAO’s office today, but it is clear that the City is well underway building at least one $6 million dollar station with approval for only <$1 million."
Mayor Sam Katz rewarded Joshi by hand-picking him to be Phil Sheegl's temporary replacement. 

With the office must have come the arrogance and conceit that fueled the unprecedented letter to Havixbeck admonishing her like a naughty schoolgirl about the need to maintain a "respectful work place".
Joshi's widdle nose was out of place at the suggestion that there needed to be another audit, this time of the post office/police station HQ fiasco, to detail the gross mismanagement and possible corruption behind the project.
He professed to be defending the entire city administration at unfounded allegations of corruption. 
But Joshi and his defenders know full well that the words Havixbeck used are mild compared to what the public is saying. 
The ones they stung are the ones who most fear public scrutiny and accountability.
You have to wonder why.

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