Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Sheegl a big part of city's project, despite his claim

Former CAO had said he flew far above plan

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The Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit, also known as the Stealth Bomber, is capable of flying as high as 50,000 feet. At that stratospheric height, it's difficult to discern much in the way of detail on the surface below.

At the end of the summer of 2012, former Winnipeg chief administrative officer Phil Sheegl used this 50,000-foot analogy to explain how much he knew about the city's plan to build four new fire-paramedic stations.

More than a year after the scandal regarding the construction of these stations erupted, we now know Sheegl was flying considerably closer to the ground than he initially disclosed.

The long-awaited review into the project, conducted by a forensic team at the Ottawa branch of consulting firm Ernst & Young, determined it was Sheegl who quarterbacked a faulty, over-budget and improperly scrutinized construction project that wound up unfairly awarding four contracts to Shindico Realty -- and ordering up a three-for-one land swap against the advice of at least one city lawyer.

"The majority of the project oversight, where oversight occurred, was done by the current CAO," concluded the Ernst & Young review, which was completed on Oct. 7, 10 days before Sheegl resigned from the City of Winnipeg.

According to the review, it was Sheegl who was tasked by former Winnipeg CAO Glen Laubenstein to take on an oversight role for the construction project, way back in 2008 when Sheegl was still the city's planning, property and development director.

It was Sheegl who travelled to London, Ont., in 2009 to look at potential designs for the station. It was Sheegl who advised the city's chief financial officer in 2010 the project could be completed for less than $15 million when the last bid came in at $18 million. It was Sheegl who told former fire-paramedic chief Reid Douglas in 2011 there was no choice but to accept a Shindico station design to allow the project to proceed.

And it was Sheegl who told Douglas in 2012 to conclude a three-for-one land-swap negotiation with a three-word directive that is sure to become his epitaph at city hall: "Get it done."

Last fall, when Couns. Russ Wyatt (Transcona) and Ross Eadie (Mynarski) mounted a pair of parallel efforts to dismiss the CAO, they claimed Sheegl, as the head of Winnipeg's public service, should ultimately be held responsible for the fire-paramedic station scandal, even if he wasn't intimately involved with the details.

Now, external auditors have identified him as the pilot of this aircraft. But Sheegl has left the city, with a presumed year's worth of severance.

On Monday, Sheegl declined to comment. "I'm bound by a confidentiality agreement that I can't discuss anything with you," he said in a brief telephone conversation.

It was left to Douglas, who was fired by the city in September for reasons that supposedly had nothing to do with the fire-paramedic station review, to comment on the veracity of the auditors' conclusions.

"He was involved in it right from the go," Douglas said in a telephone interview on Monday. "He was advised and consulted on everything. I'm not badmouthing the guy -- the truth is the truth."

Douglas, who had avoided speaking to media since he was dismissed, said he plans to address city council today at a special meeting to accept the review.

The review also determined the former fire chief didn't have the expertise or resources to conclude land negotiations. Yet it is Douglas who was dismissed while Sheegl was allowed to resign, at least officially.

Few on council are denying members of executive policy committee wanted the CAO out and allowed him to resign last week in order to get him out. That decision, which involved the severance package, drew scorn at executive policy committee on Wednesday.

"Why would we give the CAO an exit strategy when he was named in the report?" asked Charleswood-Tuxedo Coun. Paula Havixbeck. "No one should be rewarded for mismanagement and wrongdoing."

The thing is, the auditors insist nothing illegal transpired and no breach of conduct took place. Yes, city policies were ignored and even contracts were awarded unfairly, but the entire purpose appears to be an effort to complete a construction project in time to meet a deadline for federal funding.

In other words, what we're looking at here was a spectacular screw-up, or as Wyatt put it last year, "a system of well-organized and sophisticated incompetence."

Sheegl may not have been qualified to be CAO. But if he messed up as badly as auditors claim, there should have been grounds for dismissal. You don't have to break the law to be fired.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 22, 2013 A5

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About Bartley Kives

Bartley Kives wants you to know his last name rhymes with Beavis, as in Beavis and Butthead. He aspires to match the wit, grace and intelligence of the 1990s cartoon series.

Bartley joined the Free Press in 1998 as a music critic. He spent the ensuing 7.5 years interviewing the likes of Neil Young and David Bowie and trying to stay out of trouble at the Winnipeg Folk Festival before deciding it was far more exciting to sit through zoning-variance appeals at city hall.

In 2006, Bartley followed Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz from the music business into civic politics. He spent seven years covering city hall from a windowless basement office.

He is now reporter-at-large for the Free Press and also writes an outdoor-recreation column called Offroad for the Outdoors page.

A canoeist, backpacker and food geek, Bartley is fond of conventional and wilderness travel. He is the author of A Daytripper’s Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada’s Undiscovered Province, the only comprehensive travel guidebook for Manitoba – and a Canadian bestseller, to boot. He is also co-author of Stuck In The Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg, a collaboration with photographer Bryan Scott.

Bartley appears every second Wednesday on CityTV’s Breakfast Television. His work has also appeared on CBC Radio and in publications such as National Geographic Traveler, explore magazine and Western Living.

Born in Winnipeg, he has an arts degree from the University of Winnipeg and a master’s degree in journalism from Ottawa’s Carleton University. He is the proud owner of a blender.

On Twitter: @bkives
Email: bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

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