Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Still under a chill at city hall

Councillors want real estate audit behind them as election nears

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WINNIPEG’S cold snap may be over, but a chill continues to waft through the corridors of city hall.

The long winter of discontent at 510 Main St. is expected to continue in the coming months with the conclusion of an external audit of major real estate transactions the city conducted from 2007 to 2012.

City council ordered the real estate audit 15 months ago. It’s the second of two investigations launched in the fall of 2012 in the midst of the initial uproar over the city’s fire-paramedic station replacement program.

The first of those investigations, an external review of the construction of four new fire-paramedic stations in the city, was released in October 2013. Auditors from consulting firm Ernst & Young concluded the $18.6-million fire-paramedic station program was severely mismanaged and resulted in unfair contract awards to a single firm, Shindico Realty.

‘It would be nice if this wasn’t hanging around in the background. We definitely want to see some closure on a number of issues relating to the fire-hall audit’ — Coun. Jeff Browaty

Given the scathing nature of the fireparamedic review, whose conclusions were subsequently challenged by Shindico officials, some officials at city hall are eager to see the conclusion of the real estate audit.

The fire-paramedic station scandal contributed to the firing of former Winnipeg fire-paramedic chief Reid Douglas and the resignation of former Winnipeg chief administrative officer Phil Sheegl. Another scathing audit has the potential to inflict more damage — and not just on public servants. Winnipeg is only nine months away from a general election.

"It would be nice if this wasn’t hanging around in the background," said North Kildonan Coun. Jeff Browaty, chairman of council’s planning, property and development committee.

City of Winnipeg real estate officials still haven’t dealt with the fallout from the fire-paramedic station review, Browaty said. The city has yet to reach a deal to purchase the land below Station No. 12, which was built on Taylor Avenue property Shindico owned and was initially supposed to be exchanged for three surplus city properties.

"We definitely want to see some closure on a number of issues relating to the fire-hall audit. We need to settle the acquisition of the Taylor land and the sale of the properties originally considered for the swap," Browaty said.

Browaty would not speculate about the tone or severity of the real estate audit, whose release is not imminent. It might be several months before a separate team from Ernst & Young completes the review.

City auditor Brian Whiteside said last week he expects to have a better idea about a completion date the next time Ernst & Young officials brief him.

The real estate audit is intended to cover major transactions during a five-year period that ended during the fall of 2012, but is not limited to that period. It is the first audit of municipal real estate transactions since an internal audit of city deals undertaken in 1998-99 concluded members of council meddled in property negotiations.

Though a list of transactions that will be covered by the new audit has not been disclosed, it is expected to delve into the Parker land swap, the sale of the Winnipeg Square Parkade, the purchase of the former Canada Post building and the aborted sale of Parcel Four, the city-owned parking lot opposite the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, among other matters.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

 

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 13, 2014 B1

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