Calls are growing within and outside city hall for the province to call a public inquiry into the fire-paramedic station scandal as council takes steps to clear up unanswered questions.
A private law firm will be hired to determine whether the administration did anything illegal or exposed the city to a lawsuit for the series of moves that allowed local developer Shindico Realty to get the contracts to build four new fire halls.
Coun. Dan Vandal (St. Boniface), who proposed hiring outside legal help, said he was concerned other developers in the city may be considering legal action after consultants concluded Shindico Realty was repeatedly given unfair advantages to secure the contracts to build four fire halls.
Hiring independent legal counsel is necessary to rebuild public confidence in city hall, Vandal said.
"We need to take it from the forensic auditors to the lawyers and see what they say."
That follows moves taken Tuesday for consulting firm Ernst & Young to return to Winnipeg to interview councillors about their role, knowledge and concerns about the scandal.
Some councillors say that's not enough to determine whether the administration was directed to act to benefit Shindico.
"It seems very peculiar to me that four days (before the report is released) we buy off the CAO (Phil Sheegl), we buy his silence," Coun. Paula Havixbeck told reporters following the council meeting. Sheegl "needed to be here to answer to this."
The Ernst & Young review concluded the fire-hall program was badly managed, Shindico was given favourable treatment, and several civic policies were broken but found no one had acted criminally or breached the City of Winnipeg's code of conduct.
Havixbeck said people don't understand how Ernst & Young reached its conclusions, adding she's been getting copies of requests from individuals to Premier Greg Selinger, demanding he call a public inquiry and require public officials to testify under oath.
Havixbeck is the second city councillor to refer to a public inquiry. On Monday, Coun. John Orlikow (River Heights-Fort Garry) said a public inquiry might be required.
On Wednesday, members of the executive policy committee refused to explain why they pressured Mayor Sam Katz to force Sheegl's resignation last week, four days before the Ernst & Young review was made public and revealed Sheegl's depth of involvement in the scandal.
The same members of EPC criticized Sheegl for forcing former fire paramedic chief Reid Douglas to resign before the audit was released.
Sheegl was criticized for effectively silencing Douglas, and now those same councillors have silenced Sheegl, who cannot be questioned about why he acted to benefit Shindico and if anyone on council directed him to do it.
"I'm not covering up anything," Vandal said, adding members of EPC had had enough of Sheegl and wanted him gone immediately but would not explain why they couldn't wait until the Ernst & Young review was released before forcing him out.
Vandal denied securing Sheegl's silence, adding the legal review should provide the answers everyone is seeking.
"It's unfortunate the way it ended up, but that's my only comment," Vandal said.
Russ Wyatt, also on EPC, refused to talk about why he participated in the push to get Sheegl out.
"It's a human resource matter and I'm going to leave it at that," Wyatt (Transcona) said.
Katz insisted he knew nothing about the scandal and had never talked to Sheegl about the fire hall construction program.
"If I did, I would probably have been accused of meddling in something," Katz said.
Katz blamed the members of EPC for forcing Sheegl out before he could answer questions about the fire-hall scandal.
"The timing was really bad, and if that hadn't taken place, we would have had our audit done and then things could move forward from there," Katz said.
Katz said he doesn't believe a legal review will uncover any new information about the scandal.
"I don't think there is anything there," Katz told reporters. "But at this stage of the game, it's probably the safe thing to do."