Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Heat on fire chief to go: sources

Among officials in controversy over how four new stations built

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Reid Douglas denies being offered a package to leave his job as Winnipeg's fire-paramedic chief.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

Reid Douglas denies being offered a package to leave his job as Winnipeg's fire-paramedic chief. Photo Store

The fate of Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service Chief Reid Douglas is uncertain three weeks before the release of a review into Winnipeg's troubled fire-paramedic station construction program.

Sources claim the city has offered a departure package to Douglas, one of the officials at the centre of last year's storm over the way four new fire-paramedic stations were built in Winnipeg. The chief, however, dismissed those claims as inaccurate.

Douglas helped negotiate a three-for-one land swap that would have seen the former Station No. 12 on Grosvenor Avenue, the soon-to-be-decomissioned Station No. 11 on Berry Street and a parcel of vacant city land on Mulvey Avenue East transferred to Shindico Realty in exchange for the Shindico-owned site of the new Station No. 12 on Taylor Avenue. Council cancelled this proposed swap last year.

The fire-paramedic construction program was also plagued with cost overruns and dogged by questions about the way the work was procured and disclosed to council.

Consulting firm Ernst & Young was hired last year to review the entire program at a cost of $230,000. The firm was asked to look at the initial impetus for building four new stations, scrutinize the way contracts for the facilities were awarded, assess the value for taxpayers of the work conducted and examine all processes, controls and policies involved in the program.

Ernst & Young also was asked to make recommendations to the city and suggest disciplinary action, if needed. The firm's final report, initially expected in May, is due out before the Sept. 25 council meeting, city auditor Brian Whiteside said Friday.

"Our report will be coming out before the council meeting," the auditor said in a telephone interview.

Speaking under condition of anonymity, sources claim Douglas, a four-decade veteran of the fire-paramedic service, was presented with a departure offer last week in a meeting with senior city officials.

The same sources said the veteran fire-paramedic chief was unhappy following the meeting and had considered holding a press conference on Aug. 30 to make the public aware officials were seeking to remove him.

In a telephone interview Friday, Douglas categorically denied those claims. The fire-paramedic chief said he did not meet with officials, was not presented with an offer and did not consider holding a press conference.

He said he remains an employee of the City of Winnipeg and received a paycheque Friday morning.

City of Winnipeg communications manager Steve West confirmed Douglas is a city employee and added the chief is on holidays.

The city initially issued a request for proposals in 2009 to design and build new fire-paramedic stations in Charleswood, Sage Creek, River Heights and St. James. The contracts to build all four stations were eventually awarded to Shindico Realty.

The firm built a new Station No. 18 on Roblin Boulevard on the same Charleswood site of the old Station No. 18. A new Station No. 27 was erected on Sage Creek Road land purchased from Qualico, another Winnipeg developer. A new Station No. 11, plagued by delays and cost overruns, remains under construction inside a cloverleaf at the intersection of Portage Avenue and Route 90.

Facing opposition to the now-defunct land swap, the city was initially prepared to pay Shindico $990,000 for the land below the new Station No. 12 on Taylor Avenue. Council has since directed property officials to negotiate the purchase of the site or otherwise obtain the land. To date, the acquisition of the Station No. 12 site has yet to conclude.

Douglas is only one official who was grilled by councillors interested in learning more details about the fire-paramedic construction program. Along with the fire-paramedic chief, Winnipeg chief administrative officer Phil Sheegl and chief operating officer Deepak Joshi also were questioned by council's protection and community services committee last year.

Sheegl said in August 2012 he was confident all city processes and protocols were observed as part of the fire-paramedic station upgrade. Many councillors have since taken issue with that assertion.

On Friday, one source close to the fire-paramedic service said Douglas may very well wind up as a sacrificial lamb for the rest of the public service.

"It makes sense they're setting it up now so Reid can fall on his sword," he said.

That said, no one at city hall claims to be aware of the contents of the review, now slated for release within 18 days.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 7, 2013 A3

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