The decision to sack Winnipeg's fire-paramedic chief has rekindled council's appetite for cutting loose an even bigger player at city hall.
Winnipeg chief administrative officer Phil Sheegl faces an uncertain future after handing Reid Douglas his walking papers before the release of the long-awaited review into the fire-paramedic-station construction scandal.
Since the Wednesday announcement of Douglas's dismissal, a majority of council members has expressed anger about a personnel move they've characterized as suspicious, a scapegoating effort or even a coverup.
"Good heavens. We don't even have the opportunity to ask the chief any questions anymore. That's totally not right," said Point Douglas Coun. Mike Pagtakhan. "Who in their right mind doesn't think there's something going on here?"
The review involves the construction of four new fire-paramedic stations, including the over-budget and overdue Station No. 11 on Portage Avenue and Taylor Avenue's Station No. 12, built on land owned by Shindico Realty -- and once subject to a three-for-one city land swap.
Consulting firm Ernst & Young is supposed to complete that review in early October. Former fire-paramedic chief Reid Douglas is expected to be a central figure in the review, along with Sheegl and other city officials.
While chief operating officer Deepak Joshi insists Douglas's departure has nothing to do with the audit, more than half of council isn't buying it.
During the past two days, Pagtakhan and nine other councillors -- Scott Fielding (St. James), Dan Vandal (St. Boniface), Paula Havixbeck (Charleswood), Jenny Gerbasi (Fort Rouge), Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan), Brian Mayes (St. Vital), John Orlikow (River Heights), Ross Eadie (Mynarski) and Harvey Smith (Daniel McIntyre) -- have expressed concern with the timing of Douglas's dismissal.
Smith went further by calling Sheegl "derelict in his duties." Eadie has said he'd author a motion to dismiss the CAO.
Such a motion was authored last fall by Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt (Transcona) at the height of the outrage over the fire-paramedic affair and other firestorms at city hall.
But Wyatt's push to remove Sheegl lost steam among his EPC colleagues after council voted to conduct the external review of the fire-paramedic affair as well as a broader audit of major city real estate transactions.
Several times during the past year, a number of councillors said they were prepared to wait for the results of the review and audit before taking any action against Sheegl. Now, because Douglas was shown the door before the review is even out, some see that as an act of betrayal.
It's also an act of hubris, given the fact Sheegl is one of four city officials council has the power to hire and fire.
Sheegl, who did not respond to a request for comment, has always had a rough relationship with council. From the beginning, his close friendship with Mayor Sam Katz made him a controversial choice for CAO.
Last fall, a pair of Arizona shell-company transactions between Katz and Sheegl further undermined council's opinion of a CAO some already blamed for cost overruns at the new police headquarters, the aborted water-park proposal and the fire-paramedic-station scandal.
"The responsibility for this whole situation lies with the CAO," Gerbasi said Thursday.
"The actions of the last 24 hours don't reinforce my confidence, but I want to see what the audit has to say," added Fielding, signalling he's not ready to move against an official the mayor is certain to protect.
Katz is only beginning to realize he may not be able to contain the latest revolt. On Thursday, the mayor refused to say how he would vote on a motion to dismiss the CAO. "I think you know the answer to that. I'm not going to speculate," the mayor said.
Katz also insisted he had no idea Douglas would be dismissed. The mayor appears oblivious to the fact few outside his office believe there's any firewall between his office and that of his friend.
It's important to note the letter about Douglas's dismissal did not come from Sheegl but his lieutenant, Joshi. Almost alone on council, Katz said he is confident the COO must have had a good reason to part ways with Douglas, even if the timing was "not perfect" to make such a move.
"I believe the COO would only make that decision based on some proper information.
There is no doubt in my mind they wouldn't be doing that without some validity," Katz said Thursday.
What is certain, according to city sources: Some form of employee survey was conducted at fire-paramedic headquarters this spring. A departure offer was made to Douglas in late August.
He's now gone, before the fire-paramedic review. If in fact this was a chess move, the end game ought to be fascinating.