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No illegal activity in fire hall replacement program: review

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CAO Phil Sheegl (right) formally resigned, and fire-paramedic chief Reid Douglas (left) was fired, shortly before a forensic audit of the fire hall replacement program was released.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

CAO Phil Sheegl (right) formally resigned, and fire-paramedic chief Reid Douglas (left) was fired, shortly before a forensic audit of the fire hall replacement program was released. Photo Store

A legal review of the forensic audit into the fire hall replacement program has found nothing criminal or illegal was done by city staff.

Members of council were informed of the legal review during a private session Monday at city hall.

"I am relieved there is no evidence of illegal conduct during the entire fire hall episode," said Coun. Dan Vandal, who called for the legal review in October.

"That was the principle intent of my (October) motion and we now can put that to rest."

However, while at least one media outlet was reporting the legal review concluded the city remains at risk to a lawsuit, Vandal said the review did not disclose any information that hadn’t already been revealed in the Ernst & Young forensic audit.

Vandal (St. Boniface) called for the review after the initial forensic audit concluded city staff gave preferential treatment to local developer Shindico when awarding the contract to construct four fire halls.
The review was critical of several administrative moves surrounding the fire hall replacement program, including: breaking up  the project into four smaller components to avoid the necessity of bringing individual contract awards back to council for approval; allowing former fire chief Reid Douglas to lead negotiations with Shindico; and allowing the construction of the Taylor Avenue fire hall without first buying the land from Shindico.

The city has yet to buy the Taylor property from Shindico, even though that fire hall was constructed two years ago. Shindico and the city remain far apart on the value of the property and the issue is heading for expropriation to determine fair market value.

Vandal called for the legal review because he said he was concerned the city might be at risk for legal action from other developers as a result of the favouritism by administration to Shindico.

Copies of the legal review were distributed to councillors at the private Monday meeting, Coun. Paula Havixbeck said, adding they were told the document had solicitor-client privilege and it was not to be shown or copied to anyone.

While Vandal’s motion said the legal review must be shared with all of council, Havixbeck (Charleswood-Tuxedo) said councillors were told Monday the review would not be presented to a formal council meeting or a committee of council and would never be released publicly.

Havixbeck would not go into details of the review, except to say it did call for the city to change its procurement policies and procedures — a similar recommendation of the Ernst & Young audit.

Meanwhile, another audit triggered by the fire hall scandal is coming to city hall in June. Members of council were informed last week the long-awaited real estate audit will be ready for release next month.
The audit was authorized by council in September 2012 after it was revealed city administrators, without council’s knowledge, tried to trade several parcels of city-owned land to Shindico for the Taylor property.

Angry councillors demanded a review of the city’s major land deals for the last five years.

The completion of the audit was expected last September and promised again for this month.
However, city auditor Brian Whiteside informed members of council last week the audit document was being finalized after its findings had been shared with senior administrators. Whiteside told councillors the final document will be ready some time in June.

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Monday, May 26, 2014 at 5:00 PM CDT: Tweaks wording of motion.

6:32 PM: reworked with additional details

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