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Legal review puts city in clear

No staff illegality found in fire-hall scandal

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A legal review of the forensic audit of the fire-hall replacement program has found nothing criminal or illegal on the part of city staff.

Councillors were informed of the legal review at a private seminar Monday at city hall.

"I am relieved there is no evidence of illegal conduct during the entire fire-hall episode," said Coun. Dan Vandal, who called for the legal review in October. "That was the principal intent of my (October) motion, and we now can put that to rest."

Though at least one media outlet was reporting the legal review concluded the city remains at risk of a lawsuit, Vandal said the review did not disclose any information that hadn't already been revealed in the Ernst & Young forensic audit.

Vandal (St. Boniface) called for the review after the initial forensic audit concluded city staff gave preferential treatment to local developer Shindico when awarding the contract to construct four fire halls.

The review was critical of several administrative moves surrounding the fire-hall replacement program, including breaking up the project into four smaller components to avoid bringing individual contract awards back to council for approval, allowing former fire chief Reid Douglas to lead negotiations with Shindico, and allowing the construction of the Taylor Avenue fire hall without first buying the land from Shindico.

The city has yet to buy the Taylor property from Shindico, even though the fire hall there was built two years ago. Shindico and the city remain far apart on the value of the property and the issue is heading for expropriation to determine fair market value.

Vandal called for the legal review because he said he was concerned the city might be at risk for legal action from other developers as a result of favouritism by the city administration toward Shindico.

Coun. Paula Havixbeck said councillors at the private seminar were told the document carried solicitor-client privilege and was not to be shown or copied to anyone.

Though Vandal's motion said the review must be shared with all councillors, Havixbeck (Charleswood-Tuxedo) said councillors were told Monday it would not be presented to a formal council meeting or a committee of council, adding it would never be released publicly.

Havixbeck would not go into details about the legal review except to say it called for the city to change its procurement policies and procedures -- a recommendation similar to one in the original Ernst & Young forensic audit.

Meanwhile, another audit triggered by the fire-hall scandal is coming to city hall in June. Councillors were informed last week the long-awaited real-estate audit will be ready for release next month.

The real-estate audit was authorized by council in September 2012 after it was revealed city administrators, without council's knowledge, tried to trade several parcels of city-owned land to Shindico for the Taylor property.

Angry councillors demanded a review of the city's major land deals over the previous five years.

The completion of the real-estate audit was expected last September and promised again for this month.

However, city auditor Brian Whiteside told councillors last week the audit document was being finalized after its findings had been shared with senior administrators. Whiteside told councillors the final document will be ready sometime in June.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 27, 2014 B1

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