Senior city officials withheld the release of a traffic study for the new Route 90 fire hall after developer Shindico – who suggested the location and was given the contract to build the hall – objected to the document’s release through a Freedom Of Information (FIPPA) request.
Senior city officials – acting fire chief Bill Clark and public works director Brad Sacher – told the public works committee this morning that the request for the document, from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, was originally turned down because they had wrongly believed that Shindico, who arranged for the study, had the right to block it.
Sacher and Clark added however that the CTF filed a complaint with the Ombudsman’s Office who ruled that Shindico had no say in the document’s release but they continued to withhold the document because they considered the entire report advice to government and exempt from disclosure.
Only after the Ombudsman’s Office intervened again, stating only a limited portion of the traffic study could be withheld, did Clark say portions of the traffic study were released to the CTF.
The portions of the traffic study still kept behind closed doors at city hall include discussions about the original location for the hall, analysis of traffic flows at the Route 90 site, and the conclusions and recommendations from the consultant about the merits of the Route 90 location.
Clark told the committee he wasn’t comfortable releasing the remaining portions of the study because it provided key insight into the final decisions surrounding the Route 90 location.
"There were assumptions, ideas, options that were really part of the dialogue that went back and forth between (Shindico) and the (traffic study) consultant that were part of the decision-making process," Clark said, adding the city has the discretion to withhold that information.
The construction of the Route 90 fire hall was part of an external audit into the fire hall replacement program. The program was several million dollars over budget – largely because the Route 90 hall was increased in size by 40 per cent without council approval – and described by the auditors as badly managed.
The auditors concluded that Shindico – which built all four fire halls -- was given preferential treatment by the public service and information not provided to other bidders for the construction project.
Council has since ordered external legal advice to determine if the public service had acted in any way that would leave the city open to a law suit from other developers.
The public service has also rejected another CTF information request, claiming that no documents exist authorizing a design change for the Route 90 fire hall.
The administration’s refusal to release the remaining portions of the traffic study caught committee members councillors Dan Vandal and Jenny Gerbasi by surprise.
Vandal (St. Boniface) said that since the audit was completed on the fire hall replacement program, he didn’t see any valid reason to withhold the remaining portions of the traffic study.
"We’re wasting so much time discussing this issue," Vandal said. "Release the report and let everyone have a look at it."
Vandal and Gerbasi said they weren’t aware a traffic study had been done. Sacher said the report wasn’t provided to the councillors.
"What was the advice," Gerbasi (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry) said. "Was this a good idea to do this the way it was done."
Committee chairman Coun. Justin Swandel said he wasn’t concerned with the administration’s actions, so long as they were legitimately complying with FIPPA legislation.
In a compromise move, Gerbasi proposed that the entire traffic study, including the portions withheld from the CTF, be provided to all members of council.
But the final motion approved by the committee instructed the public service to release to councillors only portions of the report that they are legally required to release.