Leaked police HQ audit sparks inquiry talk at city hall
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/06/2022 (293 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Several city councillors are again calling for a public inquiry into the controversial downtown Winnipeg police headquarters project, after news a draft audit putting more blame on cost overruns at the feet of police was changed before submission.
At the same time, Winnipeg Police Service Chief Danny Smyth says his department shouldn’t be blamed for construction budget issues caused by alterations to design plans.
Coun. Scott Gillingham (St. James), who is currently running for mayor, admitted he was “concerned” about the audit changes. It is one more reason for the province to call a public inquiry, he said.
“An inquiry will provide Winnipeggers with the facts on the project — and Winnipeggers deserve to know the facts on every aspect of the project,” Gillingham said Friday.
“This project was one of the reasons why I’ve called for having a (City of Winnipeg) chief construction officer… I’m confident a role… reporting to council, would help council understand how projects are going and what change orders are being called for.”
Earlier this week, the Free Press was leaked an unreleased draft of the audit report looking at cost overruns with the downtown police department building, which was released in 2014.
The differences between the two documents show changes were made that limited the police service’s exposure to spiraling construction costs on the over-budget project.
Coun. Markus Chambers (St. Norbert-Seine River), chairman of the Winnipeg Police Board, said it is “a concern, and something that definitely has to be addressed and addressed in a way that it doesn’t take money out of the police budget that should be dedicated to serving the citizens of Winnipeg.
“It does get down to the details — the devil is in the details — on how that all evolved… and the accountability that flows out of that.”
Coun. Jeff Browaty (North Kilodonan) said it isn’t unusual for changes to be made from a draft to a final audit but “I’m very curious to know what the rationale was to remove from one version to the other. That demands an explanation.”
Coun. Kevin Klein (Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood) said he has asked several times to get more information about the change orders.
“The shooting range was originally going to be on the roof and they moved it to Wilkes past the Perimeter and it was all added as a change order,” Klein said. “I’ve even asked for an external forensic audit to look at it all.”
On the other side, Coun. Brian Mayes (St. Vital) doesn’t believe a public inquiry is necessary.
“It is already in front of the courts in multiple ways,” Mayes said, pointing to various lawsuits launched against the main construction firm, the city’s former chief administrative officer and others. “I don’t know if we need a public inquiry.”
Coun. Sherri Rollins (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry) said it’s normal for there to be changes between the draft and final audits.
“It’s not nefarious,” Rollins said. “It’s really normal to ask management to reflect and things do change. The revisions were at the discretion of the auditor and in this case, it is KPMG.”
On Friday, Smyth told reporters after a meeting of the Winnipeg Police Board he didn’t believe cost overruns were the fault of the police department.
“We were involved with the designers when the building was customized for the police service,” Smyth said.
“All of this has been reported on in the past. The design plans of headquarters were not complete when they started the project… We did have some input into some of the changes that came out of that because they were not included in the design process.
“I don’t think anybody should be surprised that the police were part of the project — we certainly weren’t the decision makers.”
When asked about how the final audit absolves the police service for the ballooning costs of the building but the draft report didn’t, Smyth said all audits go through an editing process.
“Anyone who has hired a consultant knows you get drafts of things and you want to make sure they are accurately reflecting what they have audited. This idea of comparing a draft to a final report. I think. is unfair. I would challenge all of you to show me your draft reports before they go to final report.”
Smyth said the police service would have no problem if an inquiry is called.
“I remind everyone: we are the tenants in this building,” he said. “We did not build it. We didn’t design it. We pay the rent on it and we pay the debt on it, as well.”
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.