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Council appoints Joshi acting CAO

Motion passes despite his involvement in fire hall land-swap

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Angry city councillors have accepted the scathing external audit of Winnipeg's fire-paramedic station replacement program, which was plagued by mismanagement, unfair contract awards and cost overruns.

Consulting firm Ernst & Young found the construction of four new fire-paramedic stations in Winnipeg was severely mismanaged and resulted in the non-competitive award of contracts to one firm, Shindico Realty.

At a special Tuesday-morning meeting of city council, Winnipeg's elected officials took turns regretting a litany of poor decisions undertaken throughout the course of procuring and building new fire-paramedic stations in Sage Creek, Charleswood, St. James and River Heights.

They also cautioned against the consolidation of so much power in the hands of the city's chief administrative officer.

Former CAO Phil Sheegl, named by the audit as providing the most oversight for the program, resigned last week after more than a year of pressure from city councillors.

The audit by Ernst & Young made 14 recommendations to the city, including making changes to the way it allows sole-sourced contracts and the reporting relationship of city lawyers, who are under administrative instead of council oversight.

St. Boniface Coun. Dan Vandal called the audit the most scathing he had read during 16 years of elected office. The favouritism shown to one firm opens up the city to lawsuits from other developers, he said.

St. Vital Coun. Brian Mayes, a lawyer, noted how city lawyers failed to raise the appropriate alarms.

St. Norbert Coun. Justin Swandel, however, criticized the audit report as a politically motivated and convoluted document. He also accused the media of character assassination in its coverage of the fire-paramedic affair.

All members of council, however, voted in favour of accepting the audit and its recommendations.

Charleswood-Tuxedo Coun. Paula Havixbeck also moved a motion to ask Ernst & Young to revisit the report and interview all members of council, including the mayor. That motion passed 10-6.

At the beginning of the meeting, former fire-paramedic chief Reid Douglas, fired in September for an unspecified human-resources issue, addressed council to accept responsibility for his role in the pilloried construction project.

City council then appointed a figure named in the scathing fire-paramedic station audit as Winnipeg's new acting chief administrative officer.

Council voted 11-5 to appoint Deepak Joshi, the city's chief operating officer, as the head of the city's public service until the city hires a new permanent chief administrator.

Joshi was aware of details of a proposed three-for-one land-swap that was central to the city's fire-paramedic station scandal and was named repeatedly in an audit conducted by Ernst & Young, but the auditors said he was not a central player in the construction of four new fire-paramedic stations.

Havixbeck moved a motion to appoint Winnipeg Transit director Dave Wardrop in place of Joshi.

She cited the need for transparency, openness and to recruit someone who wasn't named in the fire-paramedic station audit.

River Heights-Fort Garry Coun. John Orlikow said the electorate won't understand how council could appoint Joshi.

But after an hour-long debate, a majority of councillors said they were satisfied with Joshi's promise not apply for the position of CAO on a permanent basis.

Mayor Sam Katz said if someone else was appointed acting CAO, Joshi would be calling the shots anyway because he has the knowledge and expertise.

Couns. Havixbeck, Orilkow, Mike Pagtakhan (Point Douglas), Ross Eadie (Mynarski) and Harvey Smith (Daniel McIntyre) voted against Joshi's appointment.

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Updated on Tuesday, October 22, 2013 at 11:13 AM CDT: Updates with full writethru

12:46 PM: Writethru

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