Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

City dumps fire chief before audit

Councillors voice suspicions

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Fire-paramedic Chief Reid Douglas and Mayor Sam Katz chat earlier this year. Now, Katz isn't saying why Douglas is gone.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

Fire-paramedic Chief Reid Douglas and Mayor Sam Katz chat earlier this year. Now, Katz isn't saying why Douglas is gone. Photo Store

Councillors are raising angry questions about a city decision to terminate one of the central figures in the fire-paramedic station scandal only days before the release of a review of the affair.

On Wednesday, the City of Winnipeg parted ways with fire-paramedic Chief Reid Douglas, a city employee for four decades. Chief operating officer Deepak Joshi broke the news to Mayor Sam Katz and members of council in an email sent after the September council meeting ended.

"To ensure continuity in this important public safety leadership position, acting fire and paramedic chief William Clark will continue in the role. acting chief Clark has provided over 39 years of service to the City of Winnipeg and is currently a member of the WFPS executive," Joshi wrote.

"I am confident that acting chief Clark's leadership will facilitate a smooth transition while recruitment for a new chief takes place over the next few months."

Joshi offered no explanation for Douglas's departure. Along with Joshi, chief administrative officer Phil Sheegl and other senior city officials, Douglas had been questioned about his role in the controversial procurement and construction of four new fire-paramedic stations.

A review of the fire-paramedic station replacement program is expected as soon as early October, said city auditor Brian Whiteside, who declined to comment on the timing of Douglas's departure.

"The report will be made public in the coming weeks," Whiteside said.

Multiple city sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Douglas was the subject of an internal employee-morale survey at the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service's head office this spring after the external review was already underway. Earlier this month, Douglas was offered a departure package, according to the city sources, who also said the chief was angry about the offer and considered holding a press conference.

At the time, the chief denied he was being forced out. On Wednesday, he could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, Couns. Scott Fielding (St. James-Brooklands), Dan Vandal (St. Boniface) and Paula Havixbeck (Charleswood-Tuxedo) took issue with the timing of Douglas's termination.

Fielding, who chairs council's protection and community services committee, said it was improper for the city to dismiss Douglas before the contents of the review are known.

"I have some concerns about the timing of this. I wasn't involved in the decision. For the most part, I thought Reid was doing a good job, beyond some issues with the fire halls," Fielding said.

"I don't think it's appropriate, because action has been taken before an audit comes out. I don't have any details why he was terminated. I think the timing is inappropriate, to say the least."

Vandal said the move only adds to the air of impropriety at city hall, which is also undergoing an external audit of major real estate transactions.

"It just adds to the suspicion something's wrong," said Vandal, adding everyone on council has waited patiently for the review.

"This is a very significant report, and it would seem to me the chief of the WFPS is a very significant player in that report," Havixbeck said.

Firefighters are saddened by the chief's departure, said Alex Forrest, president of the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg said. "He risked his life for the City of Winnipeg. I don't know what the reasons are for his firing at this time. I can say his heart was always in the right place," Forrest said.

Katz declined to comment on the dismissal, citing confidentiality issues surrounding human-resources matters.

Sheegl also was asked to comment. In response, Joshi said the city could not comment, again citing confidentiality.

"What I can tell you is that the chief's departure has nothing to do with the audit. It is a human-resources matter," Joshi said in a statement.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

What explanation do citizens deserve when high-profile officials like Reid Douglas are suddenly let go? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 26, 2013 A5

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Updated on Thursday, September 26, 2013 at 6:35 AM CDT: Replaces photo, adds question for discussion

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