City council is asking the province to review the findings of a city hall real estate audit for a possible criminal investigation.
That was one of four motions approved by city council late Wednesday afternoon following a marathon six-hour special meeting. The meeting was held to consider the findings of the audit, conducted by consulting firm EY, into 33 real estate transactions dating back to 2007.
The unique meeting saw councillors question the leader of the EY audit team for three hours, hurl accusations at each other — including a testy exchange between Mayor Sam Katz and Coun. Paula Havixbeck — and then had some councillors question acting CAO Deepak Joshi over some of the audit findings.
But the one move that could continue to keep accusations swirling at city hall was the motion by councillors John Orlikow and Havixbeck (Charleswood-Tuxedo) to request that Manitoba Justice review the audit findings.
Because the audit shows repeated incidents of improper dealings between present and former city staff and some local developers, Orlikow said a review by the justice department — if the province agrees to participate — will help assure that nothing improper has taken place at city hall.
Orlikow (River Heights-Fort Garry) said it’s not enough to adopt the EY recommendations. He also advocated in support of motions that would create a new position to review all real estate deals at city hall and would require outside monitoring to ensure the audit's recommendations are followed.
"Refer it (to Justice) for a review," Orlikow said, adding that will help restore public trust. "Why wouldn’t we want the province to say, ‘no problem, there’s nothing to look at here.’"
Council veteran Dan Vandal (St. Boniface) said councillors need to wake up to the fact the recent scandals that have embroiled city hall — the fire-paramedic replacement program, the police headquarters project, allegations of favouritism towards developers — have resulted in a loss of the public’s trust and confidence.
"The whole thing is a mess," Vandal said. "Whether you choose to recognize it or whether you don’t choose to recognize it, this council has lost the confidence of the citizens we serve."
St. Norbert councillor Justin Swandel defended the actions of the administration, reasoning that in the end they produced projects with value, even if, as he said, their methods were "ugly." But Vandal said Winnipeg city hall between 1998 and 2005 produced good work while following proper procedures without drawing accusations of wrongdoing.
"We didn’t do those ugly, we didn’t those by skirting the rules, we didn’t do those by giving certain developers insider information or by giving certain developers lucrative work without the proper authorizations," Vandal said, referring to some of the findings of the EY audit. "We did it within the realm of good public service.... That’s what Winnipeggers are concerned about."
In addition to requesting a review by Manitoba Justice, council also agreed to hire an outside agency to monitor how administration implements the EY recommendations, and to create a new position to review all real estate transactions.
The meeting featured a testy exchange between Katz and Havixbeck, who accused the mayor of chastising her for raising questions about the fire hall program while she was a member of Katz’s executive policy committee.
Katz immediately labelled Havixbeck’s statement "a lie," and demanded she withdraw the comments and apologize, which she did.
While some councillors did question acting CAO Deepak Joshi over what he knew about some of the incidents reported on in the EY audit, Havixbeck’s attempts to question Joshi were repeatedly interrupted by Swandel and Coun. Jenny Gerbasi, who said her questions were improper, and forced her to stop.
Katz, who had criticized the audit when it was released a week ago, told reporters he still doesn't consider the document an audit, even if he accepts its recommendations, and he said he remains concerned that local developer Sandy Shindleman and Phil Sheegl and other former CAOs were not interviewed by the audit team.