Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

City needs help

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Winnipeg city council narrowly defeated a motion to hold a special audit into cost overruns for the new police headquarters. The consensus among those opposed to an audit was overruns are not uncommon and the rash of budget problems is largely the fault of a rogue former CAO who was in over his head.

The city has experienced a series of cost overruns on major projects -- the water treatment plant, sewage treatment, bridges and other projects -- that pre-date the arrival of the vilified Phil Sheegl at city hall. In fact, if it was added up over the last decade or more, the overruns have probably cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars.

That's assuming, of course, the overruns were the result of incompetence, rather than ordinary price inflation or design modifications that are often seen in major projects.

The real questions are whether the city is getting value for its money, and whether the process is fair and transparent. And there is the issue of competence: Are civic staff able to manage anything bigger than a pothole? Recent events raise questions beyond the qualifications of a single high-level employee.

If another audit is considered unnecessary, however, then the city should at least conduct a study to determine best practices in managing big projects. It clearly needs some help.

In fact, previous audits have cautioned the city on its weakness at project management, but the warnings have gone unheeded.

The city used to be recognized across Canada for the skills of its administrators, but that doesn't seem to be the case anymore. Somehow, the city has lost institutional knowledge over the decades. It must reacquire it.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 23, 2013 A16

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