Winnipeg mayor dogged by questions surrounding contentious Arizona deals

Mayor Sam Katz faces the press at city hall. September 27, 2012 / BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

By Tom Blackwell

National Post

For the well-heeled of Winnipeg and other Prairie communities, Phoenix, Ariz., is a bit like a second home, a relatively short flight away, yet worlds removed from Manitoba’s long, frigid winter.

Lately, the desert city has also been the focus of a Winnipeg cause célèbre, a controversial sequence of business and real-estate transactions involving the Manitoba capital’s colourful mayor, its top civil servant and a realty company that critics say wins an inordinate volume of the municipality’s business.

Mayor Sam Katz, a former entertainment promoter whose company brought acts such as the Rolling Stones to Winnipeg, has won three straight elections. These days, though, the Arizona affairs and related controversies have left him frequently on the ropes.

“People thought he was the Teflon mayor,” said Arthur Schafer, director of the University of Manitoba centre for professional and applied ethics. “But the pattern finally became so egregious, he’s a front-page scandal day after day, week after week, month after month now.”

Mr. Katz could not be reached for comment Friday.

The complex web of contentious business dealings was in the news again, though, after the mayor sold back the Arizona-based business he had bought in March for $1 from Phil Sheegl, a close friend who also happens to be Winnipeg’s chief administrative officer.

After word of the original purchase surfaced last month, Mr. Katz noted that the oddly named Duddy Enterprises was an empty “shell” company — though it saved him thousands of dollars in fees to set up an Arizona corporation from scratch. He dismissed allegations that he was improperly mixing private and taxpayer business with his top employee, and accused the news media who grilled him about it of being on a “witch hunt.” He later admitted, though, the deal’s optics made it inappropriate.




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