Two members of Mayor Katz’s executive policy committee announced this morning they will support an audit of the new police headquarters project, guaranteeing enough votes on council.
And, now Mayor Katz says he’s open to another vote on the issue.
Councillors Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan) and Brian Mayes (St. Vital) said public pressure to support the audit prevented them from getting any other work done at city hall.
"It continues to be a distraction for everything that’s going on here at city hall," Browaty said during a surprise news conference just steps from Katz’s office. "It’s our decision, based on what we heard from residents."
"It’s become a distraction – people are emailing us constantly," Mayes said. "There’s a lot of other good work we’re doing that’s not getting attention, so, let’s deal with the audit and move on."
Browaty said everywhere he went, people wanted to know why an audit wasn’t being done on the project.
"Whether it was at the Christmas table, or friends and family, or at Timmies or at the grocery store, it was the top-of-mind item," Browaty said. "The issue people seemed to have their mind around was the whole question of something not being correct there. Doing this audit will get to the bottom of it all."
A motion for an audit on the $210-million project was narrowly defeated in a 7-9 vote at the November council meeting, with Browaty and Mayes voting against.
Since then, Coun. Paula Havixbeck (Tuxedo-Charleswood) has led a campaign to keep the issue alive. On Monday, representatives from the labour community and an anti-tax group joined forces to support an audit, and called on the public to put pressure on the nine councillors who voted against the motion.
The police headquarters project had increased in costs from $135 million in 2009 to $210 million. Council was told in 2009 that the $135-million cost was a guaranteed maximum price but that was grossly misleading as the figure was based on only 30 per cent of the plans being completed.
Most of the cost increases were the result of key items omitted from the initial budget that were later added back in, including: furniture; mechanical and electrical upgrades; and necessary security upgrades.
Opponents of the audit, including Katz and Coun. Russ Wyatt, said nothing new would be learned from the move. Katz repeatedly stressed that the project was built for considerably less money, on a square-foot basis, then other comparable facilities across North America.
However, no members of senior administration have been publicly questioned as to why they remained silent as the costs escalated and why the 2009 maximum price wasn’t likely to be a realistic figure.
Katz told reporters later this morning that he’s open to another vote on the question, adding he credits a meeting with Coun. Jenny Gerbasi who genuinely believes the audit is necessary.
It’s expected that Havixbeck will request a suspension of the rules at the Jan. 29 council allowing for the motion to be considered again. For the vote to take place, at least two-thirds (11) of the 16-member council will have to support the suspension of the rules.
Browaty said if there isn’t enough support for a suspension of the rules, the motion for the audit will automatically be referred to the February council meeting, which will then only need a simple majority to pass.
Browaty and Mayes said they would also support a suspension of the rules to allow the audit motion to be brought back to council.
Browaty and Mayes said they hadn’t informed Katz or other members of EPC of their reversal, adding it was a decision they made on their own.
Browaty said in addition to the audit, he and Mayes also will call for a quantity survey to determine if the city received money for value on the project.
Browaty said he doesn’t believe an audit will be expensive but it will probably take 12-14 months to complete.