Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Councillor calls for independent probe 'to clear the air' in controversy

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THE only way to restore public confidence in city hall is to call an independent external audit into the fire-hall land swap, St. Boniface Coun. Dan Vandal said Tuesday as councillors anxiously awaited the completion of a review of the heavily criticized proposal.

Vandal, who sits on council's executive policy committee, said he has concluded the city must call for an external probe into the proposed deal, which he described as a fiasco.

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"The only way to clear the air is to get an independent third party to come in and chronologically explain what occurred, which policies were not followed (and) why they were not followed," Vandal said.

"I'm not accusing anyone of doing anything illegal, but I think we need to get the facts straight and deal with those facts to ensure this never happens again. We're dealing with public dollars. We're dealing with public assets. We have to be transparent as possible to restore that confidence."

Winnipeg chief financial officer Mike Ruta is in the midst of reviewing a plan to swap Winnipeg's old fire-paramedic Station No. 12 on Grosvenor Avenue in River Heights, the soon-to-be-decommissioned Station No. 11 on Berry Street in St. James and 0.4 hectare of vacant land on Mulvey Avenue East in Fort Rouge for the Taylor Avenue site of the new Station No. 12, land owned by Shindico Realty.

Several councillors have complained they were kept in the dark about the proposed swap, negotiated by Winnipeg fire paramedic Chief Reid Douglas with the assistance of Winnipeg's real estate division.

Property committee chairman Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan) vowed to vote against the proposal if it comes to council. Coun. Jenny Gerbasi (Fort Rouge) has called for a broader audit of Winnipeg real estate transactions.

Vandal called for a similar audit in 2009 after Shindico listed the Winnipeg Square Parkade for sale before council declared it surplus. A similar premature listing for the old Station No. 12 in August launched the land-swap controversy.

Not all councillors oppose the deal. Council Speaker Grant Nordman (St. Charles) said he is pleased four new fire-paramedic stations were built quickly, thanks to city staff.

"Was process followed? Probably not," Nordman said. "I don't think it's an issue of integrity or where we stand as decision-makers on council."

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 12, 2012 A4

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