COUNCIL has chosen one of the players involved in Winnipeg's bungled fire-paramedic-station replacement program to run the city until a new person is found to lead the public service.
City council voted 11-5 at a special meeting on Tuesday to appoint Deepak Joshi, the city's chief operating officer, to the temporary position of chief administrative officer. Joshi will conduct spot duty while the city searches for someone to replace former CAO Phil Sheegl, who resigned two working days before Monday's release of a scathing external audit of the city's construction of four new fire-paramedic stations.
That project was pilloried by auditors for being badly managed, overbudget and offering unfair advantages to a single firm, Shindico Realty, among other issues. Unlike former CAO Sheegl, who was the central figure in the program, Joshi "provided little to no oversight in regards to the project," according to the final report authored by forensic auditors at the consulting firm Ernst & Young.
But Joshi is named repeatedly in the report, which states he was aware of the negotiations to swap three city properties with Shindinco for the Taylor Avenue site of the new Station No. 12.
The audit also notes Joshi signed off on a contract to build a foundation for the new Station No. 11 on Portage Avenue -- a move that had the effect of not alerting city council the completion of the entire facility would exceed the project's budget.
On the floor of council on Tuesday, several councillors argued against appointing Joshi as acting CAO, even on a temporary basis.
"Has anyone stopped to think what the electorate will think of this?" asked River Heights-Fort Garry Coun. John Orlikow.
Charleswood-Tuxedo Coun. Paula Havixbeck, meanwhile, tried to convince council to appoint Winnipeg Transit director Dave Wardrop as acting CAO, as he had no involvement in the fire-paramedic-station project.
"There is a need for transparency, openness and recruitment of someone independent and not part of the fire hall audit," she said.
No one, however, could say whether Wardrop wanted the temporary job. Most councillors said they were satisfied Joshi has no plans to apply for the CAO's position on a permanent basis.
Mayor Sam Katz argued Joshi is the only official with the expertise to handle the job. "If it was anybody else, they would totally have to rely on this individual anyway," he said.
Council voted unanimously to accept the Ernst & Young audit along with recommendations that include changing policies regarding sole-sourced contracts and the oversight of city lawyers.
Council also approved a Havixbeck motion to have Ernst & Young interview all members of council, including the mayor, and incorporate the results into the report released last Monday.
St. Boniface Coun. Dan Vandal called the audit the most scathing he had read during 16 years of elected office. The favouritism shown to one firm opens up the city to lawsuits from other developers, he said.
St. Norbert Coun. Justin Swandel, however, criticized the audit report as a politically motivated and convoluted document, full of innuendo about former city staff. He also accused the media of character assassination in its coverage of the fire-paramedic affair.