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Council votes down new police HQ audit 9-7

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An attempt to subject the new police headquarters project to an audit was narrowly defeated on the floor of council this morning.

Councillors voted 9-7 against an audit, with the opposition led by Mayor Sam Katz and the members of his executive policy committee.

Councillors Paula Havixbeck and Jenny Gerbasi moved the motion for the audit, arguing that too many questions remain unanswered surrounding a project that went $76 million over budget.

Katz said those calling for an audit only had to read the latest administrative report, which broke down the cost overruns for a project now costing $211 million.

But Havixbeck and Gerbasi said council remains in the dark about who made key decisions, why, when and who else was aware of the situation.

"I would have thought that given the gravity of the situation, given the information we’ve had, an audit would be the obvious thing to do," Gerbasi said following the vote. "I’m very disheartened that the mayor’s EPC pulled together and they had the votes to stop an audit from growing forward."

In favour of the audit were Havixbeck, Gerbasi, Ross Eadie, Scott Fielding, John Orlikow, Harvey Smith and Dan Vandal.

Voting against the audit were Katz and the members of his executive policy committee – Jeff Browaty, Brian Mayes, Grant Nordman, Mike Pagtakhan, Justin Swandel and Russ Wyatt – and speaker Devi Sharma and deputy speaker Thomas Steen.

Wyatt seemed content to blame the mess at the headquarters project on former CAO Phil Sheegl. While not naming Sheegl, Wyatt said the individual behind this mess was the same one responsible for the fire hall audit – which concluded Sheegl was responsible for much of the oversight.

While Wyatt acknowledged the management of the police project was the result of incompetence of the highest level, he said since the same person had already been dealt with – members of EPC forced Sheegl to quit days before the magnitude of the overruns on the police project were made public – there would be no point in holding an audit.

Wyatt said questions councillors have on the project can be answered during a special meeting Friday of the downtown management committee, where an administrative request will be made for additional borrowing authority to cover the funding gap.

But Vandal, who resigned from EPC at the end of October, said an audit is needed to restore public trust in city hall.

Fielding – who also quit EPC at the end of October, citing mismanagement and a looming property tax increase – described the police project as "a mess … a convoluted web," adding an audit is needed to "get to the bottom."

Havixbeck said she’s consider bringing the motion for an audit back to council next month, adding she doubts that any useful information will be revealed at Friday’s meeting.

Aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

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