Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Former fire chief admits blame

Accepts responsibility but wants his job back

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WINNIPEG'S former fire-paramedic chief accepts responsibility for his role in a botched city construction program -- but he would like to have his old job back.

Reid Douglas, who was dismissed by the city in September, appeared before council Tuesday to declare he agreed with an external auditor's assertion he was not qualified to oversee the construction of four new fire-paramedic stations or negotiate real estate transactions.

But Douglas said he did the best he could on the construction project and would like to reclaim his old job, which he lost following an unspecified human-resources complaint that followed a survey of 20 employees at fire-paramedic headquarters during the spring.

"There was a lot of expertise I was missing. A lot of knowledge. And I accept responsibility for that," Douglas told reporters following a council meeting held to accept an Ernst & Young review of a fire-paramedic-station construction program plagued by mismanagement, cost overruns and unfair contract awards.

The audit also concluded Douglas didn't have the resources to do the job -- and was given poor direction from other members of Winnipeg's public service.

"Some of the advice I was given was very good and some of the advice I was given turned out, I guess as the audit states, to be not so good," he said.

The audit contends former chief administrative officer Phil Sheegl told Douglas he wanted Shindico Realty to build the four new fire-paramedic stations. It also states Sheegl told Douglas to conclude a three-for-one land swap in an email where the former CAO ordered the former chief to "get it done."

Douglas said he knew nothing about Shindico before the firm responded to the city's request for qualifications to build the four new fire-paramedic stations as a public-private partnership. The program was eventually changed to a conventional construction project -- and Shindico became the only bidder.

Douglas said Shindico development manager Bob Downs originally proposed the idea of swapping two old fire-paramedic stations for the new Station No. 12, which was built on a Taylor Avenue site owned by Shindico.

"We were going to sell them off and use the money for the project," Douglas said. "He said, 'Would you consider trading these properties for value against the Taylor property?' "

Downs said he did propose the idea and the city accepted it.

"We trusted them. And why wouldn't you? Maybe we shouldn't have," Downs said Tuesday in an interview. "It was a situation where Reid told us what was available. We accepted it unconditionally. It was subject to council approval. They didn't approve it."

Downs said Shindico did its best to build four new fire-paramedic stations to the city's specifications. Douglas called the result "a superb product" even if the process turned out to be a mess, especially when Station No. 12 was built on land owned by Shindico.

"They took it upon themselves to go ahead and build at their own expense, at their own risk," Douglas said. "I had a conversation with Bob Downs one day and said you could have a very expensive 7-Eleven on that property that looks like a fire hall one day, because if we don't get this land deal done and get a contract with you, you're going to own this building."

Douglas would not discuss the reason provided for his termination. He said he is speaking to the city through his lawyers and has not received a severance package. He also said he'd like his job back. "And I'm sure if you talk to 1,300 of my employees, they would like that, too," he said.

Mayor Sam Katz was quick to quash that idea. "The answer is a definitive no," he said. "There are other serious matters that took place."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 23, 2013 A4


Updated on Wednesday, October 23, 2013 at 7:49 AM CDT: replaces photo

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