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As Don Atchison ends his second year, maybe he has some clues about what Jim Maddin was up against? It takes more than waving, nodding and winking to run a city. Atchison 2005

Atchison is torn between the old guard police who serve the downtown business interests and those who push for a clean-up -- Sheila Steele

Mayor Don Atchison

Demonstration against Don Atchison

Mayor tight-lipped about complaint against police chief Sabo

A complaint against Saskatoon police Chief Russ Sabo has been filed with the province's police commission, Mayor Don Atchison confirmed Tuesday.

"An individual brought a complaint forward and it is being dealt with right now," Atchison, chair of the city's board of police commissioners, told reporters outside council chambers.

The complaint emerged earlier in the day at the police disciplinary hearing of deputy police chief Dan Wiks, who is charged with wilfully making misleading comments to a StarPhoenix reporter in May 2003.

Insp. Keith Atkinson told Wiks' lawyer, Richard Danyliuk, the matter is before the Saskatchewan Police Commission when asked if Chief Sabo is the subject of a police complaint. Danyliuk then backed off after Sabo's lawyer, Mitchell Holash, objected to the relevancy of the question to the proceedings.

The complaint is not a harassment or criminal complaint, Atchison said.

It was filed in January with the city's board of police commissioners, which sent it off to the provincial commission.

In February, the provincial board sent a letter to the city acknowledging receipt of the complaint.

Atchison was tight-lipped on details Tuesday. He said the complaint was filed by a member of the public, but declined to say whether the complainant was connected to the Neil Stonechild inquiry or give a firm response when asked if the individual was a former employee of the police service.

"The reason being each individual with complaints are given anonymity at this particular point in time and if the complainant wishes to come forward to the press, that is certainly their opportunity," he said.

Under the Police Act, complaints are forwarded to the provincial body to investigate, Atchison said, adding it is not up to the city to determine if the complaint is valid.

"The fact is that everyone should be given their fair opportunity to give their side of the story or to be heard out as well," he said. "This way it is a total independent body outside the political realm of the city of Saskatoon."

The mayor staved off criticism for not making the complaint public earlier.

"The fact of the matter is that the complaints traditionally do not come forward to the public in any point in time," he said. "The complaints go to the . . . Saskatchewan board of police commissioners and they in fact deal with it."

Complaints made public in the past have dealt with claims brought forward by the complainant, not the board, he added.

In 2003, Sabo's then-secretary Gwen Findlater levelled harassment complaints against the chief. Of the 42 incidents investigated, five were deemed by an independent investigator to constitute harassment. Sabo took a two-month paid leave and was allowed to return to the job. The allegations followed a 2002 complaint by a waitress at the Saskatoon Club of unwanted attention and remarks. Sabo was cleared of any inappropriate behaviour in that case.

Atchison said he has not spoken with the chief but confirmed he will remain on the job. The provincial police commission will investigate the complaint and inform the city's board of its findings. Sabo declined to comment, saying he is still a witness at the hearing where the complaint came to light.

Holash, Sabo's lawyer, agreed with a reporter's question that the complaint was produced as a red herring to deflect focus from the case before the hearing.


Board accepts inquiry report
Police commission unites after mayor's admission he hadn't read Wright report

The Saskatoon board of police commissioners moved into damage control mode Monday, sorting out its stance on the Stonechild inquiry report during a hastily called meeting.

"The Saskatoon board of police commissioners unequivocally accepts the report, including the findings and recommendations," Mayor Don Atchison said in a news release, which was issued as he entered an evening meeting. He could not be reached for comment to elaborate.

Atchison attracted a flurry of phone calls from upset residents after declining Thursday to endorse the report's findings, including that Stonechild was in police custody on the night he died.

"We had to clarify our position," said Donna Renneberg, the commission's only aboriginal member who accepted the report's findings and recommendations from the time it was released Oct. 26. "There was some good debate."

Atchison was among those who supported the board's position, she said.

Renneberg declined further comment on the report, citing a decision by the commissioners to wait for police Chief Russell Sabo to announce a decision on the futures of constables Larry Hartwig and Brad Senger.

Justice David Wright found the constables had Stonechild in their cruiser hours before he's believed to have died on a cold winter day in 1990. The 17-year-old's body was found in a field in the north industrial area. The constables have been suspended with pay for two weeks.

Sabo's decision is expected Wednesday.

The police commission's news release also announced that the board struck a subcommittee on Nov. 2 to address the report's eight recommendations. The subcommittee is expected to report its progress back to the commission on a regular basis. The commissioners' special meeting Monday came at the mayor's request.

Reached before the police commission sorted out its stance, Atchison said he's fully versed on the Stonechild inquiry report after studying it during a working trip to Toronto last week.

Atchison said Thursday that he had not thoroughly read the 214-page report because of a full schedule.

On Monday, Atchison said he failed to clearly express himself during a lengthy airport interview.

"Perhaps my words that I used weren't as well-selected as they could have (been)," he said. "I had scanned through the whole thing (before making the comments). I hadn't really studied it. In all fairness, you have to really study it before you can start saying, 'I read the report.' "


Mayor yet to endorse Wright report
Atchison has not read all of Stonechild report

Mayor Don Atchison stopped short Thursday of endorsing the Stonechild inquiry report's findings, one day after Chief Russell Sabo's comments in support of constables Larry Hartwig and Brad Senger became public.

The mayor says he hasn't thoroughly read the report because of a full schedule and hasn't yet conferred with the board of police commissioners, which he chairs, about the findings.

Justice David Wright's report on the Stonechild inquiry includes a key finding that Hartwig and Senger had Stonechild in their cruiser hours before he's believed to have died.

Asked if he believes the teen was in the car, Atchison replied: "I wasn't there. That's what Justice Wright says right now. (The police commission) still hasn't dealt with the report.

"I'm not trying to duck out, just tell you the straight goods -- that I haven't read the whole report yet," Atchison said, before catching a flight to Toronto, where he's attending meetings today. The commission will go through the report and decide where it agrees, disagrees or needs clarification, he said.

Atchison said he has focused more on recommendations than findings, because the commission's role is to oversee changes. He maintains, however, that he accepts the report.

Atchison was more definitive Oct. 26, the day the inquiry report became public.

"I would like to say that the board accepts the findings and the recommendations of the commissioner (Wright)," he told a police station press conference.

He added the board of police commissioners is determined to ensure the circumstances never repeat.

Sabo told his members during a routine briefing Saturday that he doesn't personally believe the constables caused Stonechild's death, officers say. Earlier that week, Sabo had told a news conference that he accepts the report.

"Fact of the matter is, it is confusing for the public and that's what we're going to have to clarify," Atchison said. "The board's going to have to come out with a statement on the issue. You can't be saying one thing one day and another thing another day."

Atchison said the police commission plans to ask Sabo about his comments at an upcoming meeting. He said he believes Sabo is impartial enough to decide the officers' fate.

Sabo has issued a statement saying he will make no public comments while deliberating the officers' fate. A decision is expected next week.

The Stonechild family called on Sabo Thursday to publicly clarify his comments in a statement issued by the law firm representing them, Semaganis Worme.

The teen's mother, Stella Bignell, said Sabo's comments are inconsistent with her private conversation with him last week.

"He agreed with the commission's findings," she said in an interview from Cross Lake, Man. "He didn't say nothing at all that (suggests) he never believed nothing. He said, 'I go with the commission's findings completely.' "

She said she wants to give Sabo the benefit of the doubt until talking with him personally.

Police commissioner Donna Renneberg said she, too, wants to speak with Sabo about his comments.

Renneberg, the only aboriginal member of the commission, said unlike Atchison, she doesn't need further study to accept the inquiry report's findings.

"I guess (Atchison) needs to do his own research," she said. "For myself, I've read the report and recommendations totally and I accept fully the findings and recommendations. I have no doubts about the findings."

The Stonechild family's law firm also said it's "disconcerting" to hear of the organized show of support Wednesday by about 100 police officers for the constables.

The demonstration inside the police station "can only be seen as an act of insubordination which must be addressed if the report is to have any meaning or effect," the firm's statement reads.

Justice Minister Frank Quennell couldn't be reached for comment.

"There will be some tension as this goes forward," said a spokesperson for Quennell. "Things will be said or not said. Things will happen. He doesn't want to get involved in commenting on each little development."

The lawyers for Hartwig and Senger, Aaron Fox and Jay Watson, said Thursday that the chief's comments wouldn't necessarily be a major factor in any public hearing that would result if he fires the constables and they appeal.


City goes to private-sector well for spa project

A year of hype, controversy and planning surrounding River Landing has come down to a test of private-sector faith in the south downtown project.

The city is set to call for expressions of interest in building a mineral spa, restaurant and condominiums on the northeastern quarter of the Gathercole site -- the first time it's asked for a private-sector financial commitment in the redevelopment project.

"This is the first step to make sure that we are on the right page together," said Mayor Don Atchison. "We believe we will have a healthy response and will have different groups to choose from."

Interest in developing this corner of the 30-acre River Landing, which sweeps across south downtown and southeast Riversdale, is expected to set the tone for interest in the whole development. Lining up an exciting spa project would help attract developers for the rest of the project, Atchison predicts.

City council approved a selection process Monday that puts much of its confidence in a private Realtor, Colliers McClocklin Real Estate, to attract interest. The firm will contact developers it deems qualified to build such a project and ask for expressions of interest to prequalify them for a shortlist. An administrative committee will evaluate those expressions based on financial capacity, experience, the development concept and references. The developers will then be asked to submit more comprehensive proposals, focusing on design of the project and how much they're willing to pay for the site. The administrative committee will evaluate those proposals based on criteria including their offers for the city-owned land, overall quality, consistency with the River Landing plan, design and quality of materials.

"We're looking for winners, not people trying something for the first time," said Gwyn Symmons, the city's lead consultant on River Landing.

City council used an expression of interest process under former mayor Jim Maddin last year that drew criticism, but it was broader and didn't restrict proposals to developers with the finances and experience to carry them out.

The eventual selection of a winning proposal will be based on a points system for various criteria. If there's a clearcut leader, the city would select it without council giving final approval.

If the leader is ahead by fewer than 15 points, council would make the final choice of a project, said Chris Dekker, the city's manager for River Landing.

The expression of interest process will continue for 10 weeks. If the city issues its request for proposals by late January, the city could have a winning project by spring.

Construction would start between fall 2005 and spring 2006, Dekker said.

Coun. Myles Heidt said that timeline is disappointing.

"My expectation was to have something on that site before September," he said.

Colliers will collect 3.5 per cent of the value of the eventual sale of the site as its fee.

The city has drafted a $5.95 million capital budget for River Landing in 2005, all for land on the east side of the Senator Sid Buckwold Bridge, which is now being called Phase 1. The biggest expenditures are $2.75 million for roads, sidewalks and streetscaping, with another $800,000 set aside for work on a landmark at the south end of the extended Second Avenue South. The budget needs final approval within the 2005 overall capital budget.

The city is waiting for $15 million promised by the federal government to clean up and service the west side of River Landing, Dekker said. Ottawa is firming up final details before approving the grant.

There's already plenty of interest in developing the site west of the spa and east of the Senator Sid Buckwold Bridge. Persephone Theatre and Scene III, the latter which represents Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan and La Troupe de Jour, have submitted competing proposals to build a new performance theatre on the site.

La Troupe president Raoul Granger presented Scene III's proposal for a 200-seat theatre with flexible configurations to city council Monday. The theatre would cost $5.5-million to build and need $3 million in government funding. Donors would generate the $2.5-million balance.

"The facility will help to showcase Saskatoon as a cosmopolitan city committed to establishing partnerships to foster dynamic cultural opportunities," Granger said.

Persephone has a similar facility built into its $6.5-million proposal that it hopes to use for its smaller performances and to rent out to community groups.

Atchison said council will likely strike a subcommittee to sort out a plan for developing the cultural site. The city's plan also includes some type of landmark tower and possibly a Tourism Saskatoon office and river interpretive centre.


Latest murder city's ninth of the year

Saskatoon is likely facing its ninth murder of 2004, giving the city unwelcome infamy by setting a single-year record for at least the last decade.

The body of a 44-year-old man was found inside a house at 104 Ave. M South in the early hours of Sunday after a police car was flagged down by an acquaintance of the victim, according to Staff Sgt. Kelly Cook of the Saskatoon Police Service's Major Crimes Unit.

While an official determination of murder hasn't yet been made, it's almost certain, Cook suggested.

"Yes, we suspect foul play," he said, noting the evidence at the scene made a strong case for that conclusion.

He wouldn't provide any more details than that. An autopsy is expected to be performed Monday and an update on the situation will be released following that, Cook said Sunday afternoon.

The only information he could share was about how the police became involved. A person had gone to a house where the victim was found and "determining that something was wrong" waved down a passing police cruiser at about 4:15 a.m.

A call was put into the police headquarters about a possible injured person and more officers responded. Upon checking inside the house, they found the victim's body. Investigators from the major crimes unit took over the scene shortly thereafter.

"The investigation is continuing and I can't say anything else at this time," said Cook.

On Sunday afternoon, the house was surrounded by cruisers as officers sat in their vehicles and kept an eye on the rough-looking bungalow, its yard surrounded by yellow police tape.

A bedsheet served as a curtain for one of the two front windows. The other had a section of filmy plastic filling in for a broken window panel.

One neighbour, who recently moved to the area, did not know the occupants of the house where the body was found.

"There was always lots of people going in and out but it was quiet," he said, reluctant to provide his name.

The houses immediately neighbouring the scene of the crime were mostly boarded up or covered in metal screening with no one answering the doors. In fact, of the homes in the immediate vicinity, there was nearly as much wood as glass covering the window openings.

"You never want to have a high like that," Mayor Don Atchison said Sunday, referring to the number of murders reaching new heights.

The increase can be partly attributed to the growth of the city, said Atchison, who chairs the board of police commissioners.

"Part of it is a reflection upon society and we have to deal with these things," he said.

At last count, the city's population was at 215,000 and that doesn't include many of the temporary residents brought in by the university and SIAST Kelsey campus, Atchison said. The dilemma is in dealing with the root causes of those homicides, many of which have been domestic disputes while "some of them (2004 murder victims) apparently were involved with gangs."

Atchison is still trying to get more officers on evenings and weekend patrol, which is subject to negotiations with the city police association, while the family crisis centre has been given more money to address domestic issues.

"But neither of those groups have all of the solutions. I guess it's just a question of us working harder in all areas," he said.

CITY'S MURDERS IN LAST 10 YEARS
1994 - five
1995 - three
1996 - two
1997 - eight
1998 - seven
1999 - four
2000 - seven
2001 - one
2002 - six
2003 - eight