Conflict of interest case: Mayor Sam Katz should have known better

Ayame Ulrich

Mayor Sam Katz is accused of violating the Municipal Council Conflict of Interest Act (MCCIA) in 2010 when he threw a Christmas party at Hu’s Asian Bistro, a restaurant he owned at the time.

Joe Chan, manager of Cathay House on Regent Avenue, filed a complaint against Katz claiming the party at Hu’s two years ago was a conflict of interest and according to the MCCIA, Katz should be removed from office.

Katz is undaunted; he is even confident he can have the case thrown out.

“I would be more than hopeful the judge will see this as the nonsense that it is,” Robert Tapper, Katz’s lawyer, told the Winnipeg Free Press. “Based on Chan’s logic, the mayor would violate the rules any time he takes a councillor to lunch at his restaurant to discuss city business.”

The party cost a little over $2,900, but the money is not Chan’s chief concern.

“First of all, clearly you can’t send business to your own restaurant,” Chan told the Winnipeg Sun. “He’s guilty like hell.”

Strong words from a rival restaurant owner.

Chan said he doesn’t want to see the city’s money spent on a private party at the mayor’s private business.

David Matas, Chan’s lawyer, believes Chan has a case.

“It was his restaurant and he held a party the city paid for. It should have been held at a place where he had no financial connection,” Matas told the Sun.

I also believe Chan has a case - a public servant cannot use public funds to benefit their own private interests, whether it is a business or a charity.

A charity is what got Rob Ford in trouble.

Ford was the mayor of Toronto until he was ordered out of office by a judge in November last year for speaking to and voting on a council decision regarding his own actions.

The issue arose from a complaint that Ford was using his status as mayor to gain donations for his football charity.

These are two mayors accused of mixing business and their public office with their private interests.

Despite what Katz and Tapper say, the situations are very comparable.

There are a lot of common-sense arguments to be made that what Katz did in 2010 was, in fact, a conflict of interest.

The information and warnings were easily available; I found them on Google.

Picking his own restaurant as a venue for the party should have been an obvious no-no.

Yet Katz waves this accusation off, calling it “frivolous.”

It’s clear to me that Katz, by having a party at his privately owned restaurant with taxpayer dollars, had a direct financial interest in the business; he used his status as mayor to benefit his own business with a party for which Winnipeggers paid.

This is unmistakably a conflict of interest.

The penalty, though, is perhaps a bit harsh.

He didn’t even spend $3,000 on the party. Does his crime fit the punishment?

If found guilty, he could be fired.

People have been fired for less, although his position does require a higher standard of accountability than most.

Integrity, an obvious requirement for any public servant, lives in small spaces - those routine choices we make without thinking that determine who we really are.

I’m not sure Katz should be fired, but if he really is guilty of a conflict of interest, then he knew, or should have known, the consequences and he will have to face the music.

Thomas Guenther is a freelance writer who lives and works in Winnipeg.

Published in Volume 67, Number 15 of The Uniter (January 10, 2013)

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