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City to province: review audit

Accusations of lying at special council hearing on real estate probe

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Coun. John Orlikow

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Manitoba Justice will be asked to review the findings of the audit into real estate transactions at city hall 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 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 had some councillors question acting CAO Deepak Joshi over some of the audit findings.

The one move that could continue to keep accusations swirling at city hall was the motion by Couns. John Orlikow and Russ Wyatt (Transcona) to request Manitoba Justice review the audit findings.

'Why wouldn't we want the province to say, "No problem, there's nothing to look at here' " -- Coun. John Orlikow

With the audit rife with repeated incidents of improper dealings between current and former city staff and some local developers, Orlikow said a review by Manitoba Justice -- if it agrees to participate -- will help assure nothing illegal has taken place.

Orlikow (River Heights-Fort Garry) said it's not enough to adopt the EY recommendations, also advocating in support of motions for outside monitoring of the recommendation implementations and to create a new position to review all real estate deals.

"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.' "

Coun. Dan Vandal said councillors need to wake up to the fact the recent scandals that have embroiled city hall -- the fire-paramedic hall replacement program, the police headquarters project, allegations of favouritism toward developers -- have resulted in a loss of the public's trust and confidence.

"The whole thing is a mess," Vandal (St. Boniface) 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."

While St. Norbert Coun. Justin Swandel defended the actions of the administration because they produced projects of value, even if their methods were "ugly," Vandal said city hall from 1998 to 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 agreed to hire an outside agency to monitor how the 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-paramedic hall program while 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 questioned Joshi over what he knew about some of the incidents reported 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 does not see the document as an audit, even if he accepts its recommendations, and said he remains concerned Shindico president Sandy Shindleman, former CAO Phil Sheegl and other former CAOs were not interviewed by the audit team.

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 10, 2014 B1

History

Updated on Thursday, July 10, 2014 at 11:09 AM CDT: adds related story

12:54 PM: Corrects names of councillors who proposed the motion

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