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Taxpayers still left with questions after audits

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The new police headquarters on Graham Avenue will cost taxpayers at least $210 million.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

The new police headquarters on Graham Avenue will cost taxpayers at least $210 million. Photo Store

Well, we have three audits completed, and we don't have the answers we were looking for.

The reason is simple: If you don't ask the tough questions, you won't get the answers. Even then, there is no guarantee we will get the answers to the questions the people of Winnipeg want and deserve.

After two audits by Ernst & Young and one almost-audit by KPMG (I call it an almost-audit because KPMG indicated it only had 10 weeks to complete the review and not enough time to get all the details they may have needed), we are still left wondering. We have found out, to no one's surprise, all three audits reached the same conclusion. There are problems with protocols, procedures, process and transparency.

There are issues relating to not sharing information, sharing information too soon with selected parties, perceived favouritism and a general mishandling of some major projects, costing this city's taxpayers millions of dollars. Let's not forget KPMG indicated the City of Winnipeg got value for its dollars in the building of the Winnipeg Police Service's new headquarters. That was never the question taxpayers wanted answered. It may have been the question the mayor and at least some councillors wanted answered.

If we looked at other options instead of spending $210 million on the new police headquarters, could we have renovated the existing building? Let's say that cost us $50 million. We still would have $160 million that could be spent elsewhere.

How about road repair, parks, bike lanes and even development in other areas?

How about fixing the downtown parkade, or even looking at the pumphouse site, meeting with the community and developing it according to what city bylaws and plans indicated?

What about looking at developing multi-use, walkable communities, improving public transit, or offering incentives to encourage more green initiatives?

The list is endless, of course. The value-for-dollar answer is in essence meaningless. This was a major project the mayor and councillors were not elected to do, and they did not consult with the people who will end up paying for it. Don't get me wrong -- in the end, after consultation and a proper process, we may have still built police headquarters as-is. The difference is, we would have followed a process, been transparent, used a tendering process and waited for the plans to be complete before making such an important decision. We would have made an informed decision.

After all is said and done, we can't change the past. The real estate deals are done. The fire-paramedic stations are built (albeit one of them on land we didn't own), and the police headquarters was built at a cost of at least $210 million. Again, we are left with unanswered questions.

Taxpayers wanted these questions answered:

-- Why did we need a broker or independent real estate agent to purchase property? City officials indicated they could do the job.

-- Who authorized the building of police headquarters with only 30 per cent of the plans in place, and why?

-- When warned by city officials of people becoming concerned over favouritism toward one developer, why was that ignored?

-- Were conflict-of-interest guidelines broken?

-- Why wasn't the mayor more aware of what was happening in these major projects, especially when concerns started to surface?

-- How much did the city's executive policy committee know and when? What about councillors? Why are they not asking the questions we want answered?

-- What about the media? Watergate would have never been exposed if it wasn't for the media.

-- Why was Phil Sheegl let go before the audits became public?

There are many more questions we want answers to. We also want accountability. It is too easy to make the middle managers the scapegoats for the lack of information (or presence of misinformation) about projects. We want accountability from the people in charge. How refreshing it would be to hear the mayor stand up and say "I should have known. Ultimately, I am responsible. Here are the mistakes I made. Here is how we are going to fix it."

Oh wait... is that a singing pig flying over a blue moon playing Beethoven's Fifth Symphony?

I think a flying, singing, piano-playing pig is more likely to happen than politicians holding themselves to the high expectations elected officials should be held to.

 

James Hoddinott blogs at jameshoddinott.com.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 20, 2014 A10

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