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.

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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: black_rod_usher@yahoo.com

Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Sammie Award for best actor in a civic scandal goes to ... Brian Bowman



It's award season.  Step aside Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild, Oscars...

...we're going to honour the best performances deserving a Sammie, the city of Winnipeg award for scandal, shame, conspiracy, cover-up, audits and police investigations.

The  nominations are in.

For the best portrayal of disgraced Mayor Sam Katz in a civic scandal:  Know Nothing Mayor Brian Bowman.

For the best portrayal of Sandy Shindleman in a civic scandal:  Mark Chipman, Bowman's biggest booster.

For the best ensemble portrayal of Shindico in a civic scandal: True North Entertainment.

For the best portrayal of disgraced CAO Phil Sheegl in a civic scandal: a tie between CentreVenture board chair Kurt Vossen and CentreVenture board member Richard Olfert.

Honorable mention:  soon-to-be-fired CAO Deepak Joshi as himself.

We've seen this movie before, haven't we?

The mayor's friend gets a secret real-estate deal worth millions. Councillors who should be watchdogs are told they have no time to get answers; the deal has to be rubber-stamped immediately or we'll get sued-slash-we'll lose federal funding. The mayor is, ahem, "unhappy", but...well, what can he do?  And anyway, it's a great deal for the city.

Yep.  Seen it.

Bowman put on his unhappy face at this week's special executive policy committee meeting and tried to act tough. Grrrr. I'm unhappy, he said.

He was unhappy that CentreVenture had made a secret deal with True North to build a fancy hotel next to the Convention Centre. By doing so they stabbed in the back a company hired by the Convention Centre to expand the facility and build a new hotel as part of their contract.

A CentreVenture spokesman said that in the past they had fed the other company leads on possible partners in building the proposed hotel.  But not this time. This time they negotiated with True North themselves and kept their deal secret.

By doing so they snookered the other company into paying them $3.7 million as a penalty for not building the hotel they promised.  They needed the money to pay down the $6.6 million they spent to buy and demolish an old hotel adjacent to the Convention Centre where the new one will rise.  Hee hee. Sucker!

Bowman said he was unhappy.  As a lawyer, what CentreVenture did didn't seem right. Or legal. But what's done is done.  And he had to look tough.  So he ordered CentreVenture -- yes, ordered --  to hold a public competition for development ideas that would include a hotel for the Convention Centre.

Now, in the week prior, Bowman had declared he would accept nothing less than a request for proposals, an RFP.

This week he flip-flopped and settled for an "expression of interest", an EOI, for the land.  That's a step or two below an RFP, not that it matters.

For, you see, it's all for show.

Bowman, wearing his I'm tough and unhappy face, wants the public to believe he's leveled the playing field, so to speak.  He's opened the competition to everyone who is interested.  Fairsey squaresy.

Except that True North has a nine month headstart on any other competing developer. 

Oh, and the judges of the EOI will be CentreVenture, which already has a deal with True North.

They are sitting at the finish line with the first-place trophy already engraved with True North's name.
 
So, what's the charade  of an EOI going to accomplish?

And the winner of the Sammie is ...

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Cool. Boy Mayor Brian Bowman gets his own development scandal.


We're so dizzy we're bumping into walls.

Who wouldn't be after a day of scandal after scandal like we saw Wednesday.

Where should we start?  Should we start with the latest land development scandal?

Oh, you're bored with land development scandals.  All developers are crooks; all politicians are corrupt; nobody ever gets charged or fired or held accountable; and it's going to cost taxpayers millions, as usual. 

Hey, were you peeking at our notes? But this one is different, kinda. Listen:

The Winnipeg Convention Centre was looking pretty dowdy. It needed a makeover. And while they were at it, they could make it bigger, because conventions these days are really, really big and if you want to attract the best ones, you have to be big enough to host them.

So they had a contest to see who could do the job at the best price and picked a company called Stuart Olson. But there was one teeny catch. Isn't there always?

Convention goers want to stay in top-of-the-line name hotels to collect loyalty points. So part of the deal called for Stuart Olson to build a hotel right by the new Convention Centre for a high-end hotel chain.

Easier said than done. While they had the land (CentreVenture, the agency charged with jumpstarting development in downtown Winnipeg, bought the Carlton Hotel and demolished it), Stuart Olson couldn't nail down an interested hotel chain. And time was running out. The expansion project will be finished this year, and  they can't wait forever to start building an adjoining hotel.

This is the part everyone agrees on.  
The next part no one agrees on.

The Convention Centre has a contract with Stuart Olson that calls for SO to build a suitable hotel. Or not. Yesterday we were told the contract was never signed.  Or maybe it was. We don't know because they can't get their story straight.

CentreVenture said Stuart Olson went to a meeting in April and threw in the towel.  We can't find anyone who wants a hotel here, they allegedly said.  The Convention Centre  says baloney, Stuart Olson  didn't stop looking for a partner until last week.  And they may even have whipped up a suitable deal, but CentreVenture wouldn't talk to Stuart Olson about it and it died.

CentreVenture says they found their own hotel developer. Everybody at City Hall is being hush hush and pretending they don't know who it is. But outside of City Hall its an open secret. Longboat. The development arm of the Chipman family, including son Mark who owns the Winnipeg Jets.

But then it gets confusing. (What? You thought that was confusing?  Nertz.)

The Convention Centre has a binding contract (or not) with Stuart Olson to build a hotel on land owned by CentreVenture. CentreVenture says it's given an option on that land to a developer which is not Stuart Olson. The Convention Centre says they may have had a deal which was scuttled by CentreVenture because CentreVenture had their own secret deal of which, of course, they didn't tell anyone. 

Oh, and the deal is with a company connected to Mark Chipman, who as of November, 2014 was still listed on the CentreVenture board of directors ... (Sure, now you're interested) ... and who very publicly endorsed Mayor Brian Bowman. Bowman is the honorary chairman (ex officio) of the CentreVenture board of directors. The twitteratti are already calling Mark Chipman Brian Bowman's Sandy Shindleman.

Bowman, the mature statesman, said yesterday the whole stab-in-the-back thing is "not cool."

Still not enough?

Well, the chairman of the board of the Convention Centre is none other than Bob Silver, the co-owner of the Winnipeg Free Press.  You would think that the owner of the bloody newspaper would make sure his own reporters got the facts right.  But you would be wrong.  It's not that they got the facts wrong, it's just that everybody has their own facts and nobody is sorting them out.

Maybe somebody from the city could step in and be that person.  Uh, nope. CentreVenture says they kept city officials in the loop the whole time.  But by city officials they mean NOT city councillors or the mayor.

CentreVenture means they talked with the real power brokers at city council -- the administration, which would undoubtedly include acting CAO Deepak Joshi.

You know Deepak Joshi. His name pops up frequently in the audits of the firehall boondoggles.  Yet somehow he was appointed in October, 2013, as acting-Chief Administrative Officer to replace Phil Sheegl, the architect of the firehall scandals. He was told to replace himself asap. He managed to avoid that task for 15 months.

But now he's on the fast track to getting fired. Bowman suspended him for 3 days, EPC extended the suspension for 30 days during which they will recommend he get the boot and council will tell him to bend over. Bowman never said why he lost confidence in Joshi. 

In fact, at the first meeting of the new council he defended Joshi when defeated mayoral candidate David Sanders warned about the mindset of the administration.

Said Sanders. "We have just seen altogether recently too much evidence of Lord Acton's dictum that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

"Unfortunately, most senior administrators have come to believe that they are in charge at City Hall and they can ignore elected councillors with impunity."

Bowman delivered Sanders a pompous lecture about the laws of defamation. When the facts of the Convention Centre hotel fiasco trickled out, he learned that Sanders had been right all along. Bowman flip-flopped and turned on Joshi.

He still owes Sanders an apology, though.  That would be cool, dude.

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Monday, January 12, 2015

Winnipeg Police -- too many and too useless, said Finance Chair Marty Morantz


Not only did new councillor and professed lawyer Marty Morantz demonstrate last week his total ignorance of the law governing council, but he doubled down to say he didn't care what the law was, he was going to bully city employees around and they had better like it.
 
If this is an indication of the calibre of appointees to 'Know Nothing' Brian Bowman's civic government, then Winnipeggers will soon be wishing for a return of Mayor Sam Katz and what was then known as the most dysfunctional council in memory.

Bowman, whose knowledge of how city council functions is zero, decided to start his term in office by attacking the city auditor. Two days later, Morantz decided he would attack the police department and thereby demonstrate he's even more clued out over how the city runs than Bowman. What an accomplishment.

Upon presentation of the Winnipeg Police Service Third Quarter Financial Report, Morantz lobbed questions at Deputy Police Chief Art Stannard about why the police couldn't find savings in their budget (they call it "efficiencies") and why the force was bloated by officers who should be retired.

Stannard patiently explained that the rules now required the police to report to the new Police Board and for city council to ask the Board for answers. Morantz would have none of that.

HE was MARTY MORANTZ,  and HE, MARTY MORANTZ, was chairman of the finance committee, and no underling would tell him, MARTY MORANTZ, how to do things;  HE, MARTY MORANTZ, was in charge and HE, MARTY MORANTZ, was DEMANDING--YES, DEMANDING---answers from the deputy chief, the law be damned.

The other members of the finance committee--veteran councillor and  Deputy Mayor Mike Pagtakhan and, would you believe, new councillor and chairman of the Police Board Scott Gillingham --- sat like dummies, refusing to challenge the presumptuous chairman.
 
There are too many police and too many are useless, railed the imperious Morantz, doing his best to intimidate and humiliate the deputy chief. See. Look at me. I'M MARTY MORANTZ, and I'm a tough guy when it comes to city finances. 
 
Morantz was in such a rush to throw his weight around he failed to do even the most rudimentary research.

He could have read the 347-page Operational Review of the Police Service that was commissioned by city council and received in August, 2013,  17 whole months before Morantz's grandstanding performance.
 
 
This report is mandatory reading for anybody in civic government dealing with the police service who doesn't want to sound like a fool.  For 'fool' read 'Marty Morantz'.
 
That report contained many examples of  "efficiencies" open to the Winnipeg police, as well as suggestions as to where police positions could be eliminated and/or filled by civilians

. The report by the Matrix Consulting Group identified more than 75 positions ranging from 18 in the Central Reading Unit, 12 in Human Resources (civilians should be doing that job), and 25 at the airport (we lost the contract) to 3 constables in the Stolen Auto Unit, one constable in the Pawn Shop Detail, and the two constables with the Mounted Patrol.

Moranz could have asked which suggestions were adopted, which weren't, which could be, which shouldn't.  But that is obviously beyond the capability of a lawyer who writes wills for a living.  In which case Morantz could have had a private discussion with the head of the Police Board,  WHO SITS RIGHT BESIDE HIM ON THE FINANCE COMMITTEE. 
 
Instead, Morantz chose to be an arrogant pissant.
 
Winnipeg has had enough of this conceit.  We had our fill from Phil Sheegl, who came highly recommended by Mayor Sam Katz as the smartest guy in the room. We're still cleaning up the rubble left behind by that duo.  Was there a hint in the fact that Marty Morantz was a financial donor to Katz's election campaign?
 
What we've seen so far from 'Know Nothing' Brian Bowman and his henchman I'M MARTY MORANTZ is two lawyers from Charleswood/River Heights who want to jack up taxes to fund their pet projects while hacking services to the little people (who do we need so many police anyway? what do they do all day?).
 
Bowman claims he wants more transparency and accountability in this council. He's certainly demonstrated the need to be extremely vigilant with him and his council appointees.

Last Friday, Bowman backed Marty Morantz's public grilling of Deputy Police Chief Art Stannard.  But by Monday he was squeaking a different tune.

Police Chief Devon Clunis was out of town on vacation last week when Morantz implied the police force should be forcing a whack of officers to retire and that "it looks to me that there are a lot of officers hanging around now.” 

Clunis got back on the weekend and made a beeline for Bowman.  By the time their, ahem, meeting ended, it was clear who the alpha male in the room was and who was his bitch.

The pair held a joint news conference Monday.

"I want to re-affirm my support and council’s support for the invaluable work the members of the Winnipeg Police Service do each and every day," mumbled Bowman with a mouthful of crow.

"I support fully what our deputy chief said and from the comments I’ve read, I would have taken the same actions." said a stone-faced Clunis.

The police department had his full support,  said Bowman, adding that it was clear "to everyone now" that police report to the police board.

'Everyone' meaning Marty Morantz who was summoned to a meeting with Clunis and the mayor before the newser.

There he was fitted with a muzzle and told to "stay".  He did, neither showing his face at the news conference nor appearing to answer questions from reporters afterward.

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Thursday, January 08, 2015

Winnipeg city councillors give the new mayor a nickname.


New Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman already has a nickname at City Hall.



Bozo Bowman.

Ouch.

Two thirds of the way into his first hundred days in office, his colleagues on council have decided he's a legend in his own mind.

'Know Nothing' Brian Bowman promised to do City Hall differently, to "hit the ground running", to "think big."

So on Wednesday, what did he do?  Bowman decided to pick a fight and to do it 'old style', namely to follow the footsteps of former mayor Sam Katz step for step. 

How's that for doing things differently?

Bowman adopted Katz's sleazy tactic of "walking on" a motion to executive policy committee. 
That's politico-speak for slipping a motion onto the agenda at the last minute and expecting your toadies to ram it through without debate.  So what happened?  What do you think?  Bowman's toadies on EPC rammed the motion through without debate. He "hit the ground running."

And who does Bowman want to scrap with?  Why, city auditor Brian Whiteside, the man whose audits almost single-handedly exposed the bid-rigging, the handing of untendered contracts to favorite contractors, the waste of millions of tax dollars in a raft of mismanaged (to use a polite word) projects.

Puffing up his scrawny lawyer's chest, Know Nothing Bowman demanded, yea demanded, that Whiteside produce a written report - in two weeks - telling what's been done to implement the dozens of recommendations contained in three property audits, including the construction of new firehalls disaster and the new police headquarters fiasco.

"Council asked the auditor to report on a quarterly basis, that has not happened in a year," Bowman sniffed to reporters. "So, that has to happen and it has to happen very quickly."  Ooohh, what a tough guy.

But it might be that it's Bowman who's cruisin' for a bruisin'.

In his 2013 report to council, Whiteside discussed the audits and the "quarterly report card":

Advisory Services
Quarterly Report Card

The Audit Department’s work does not end when an audit report is presented to City Council. The most important component of an audit recommendation is its implementation. The Public Service provides a response to each audit recommendation in the audit report along with an action plan.

The subsequent implementation of the audit recommendations in accordance with the action plans is the responsibility of the Public Service.

Since 2006, the Status of Audit Recommendations Quarterly Report Card is reported to Audit Committee. The Quarterly Report Card is produced at the end of March, June, September and December and is presented at the next Audit Committee. While the Audit Department facilitates the process, the Quarterly Report Card presents management’s representations as to the status of recommendations implemented, in progress, or not to be implemented.


For recommendations in progress, an implementation strategy and timeframe is provided. For recommendations not to be implemented, an explanation is provided. The Audit Department does not audit the responses but does provide an opinion on the completeness of the responses and the reasonableness of action plans proposed. The CAO and appropriate departmental staff attend Audit Committee to respond to any questions members may raise regarding the project updates.



In a nutshell, he said the quarterly reports are up to the city management to prepare. The Auditor only comments on the completeness. 

So, it seems that if there have been no quarterly reports, blame the CAO ( in this case, Deepak Joshi.)



Our city hall sources say Bowman is flailing around trying to find money to balance the budget, and generally making an ass of himself.


Perhaps he's looking ahead to the next budget --  and panicking.


Bowman promised to raise taxes only at the rate of inflation.  By the start of December, 2014, the annual inflation rate for Canada was 1.95 percent. It may have fallen even lower by the end of the year. 

If it's Manitoba inflation he's using as his standard, taxpayers are in even better luck. The Manitoba inflation rate to December, 2014 was 1.1 percent.

When it comes to tax increases, voters want councillors to think small.

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