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This article was published 22/1/2014 (2867 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Winnipeg's administration came under fire from councillors and citizens Wednesday for its role in the fire-hall replacement project.
Several presenters at a meeting of the executive policy committee Wednesday morning criticized administration for its claim the public service had acted properly in the construction of four new fire-paramedic stations.
"You definitely need a cultural change at city hall," said Colin Craig, Prairie director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
Critics focused on a lone sentence in the administrative report that said administration did nothing wrong in its handling of the project: "Throughout the process of delivering the (fire hall replacement) program, the public service accepted the recommendations of council, and followed existing City of Winnipeg bylaws, council policies, administrative standards and practices in a fair manner, per due process and best intentions."
Craig said the statement fuels public mistrust in city hall.
"Someone should have said, 'You've got to be kidding -- the public is going to laugh at this,' " Craig said. "Has anyone been held accountable for what happened and how... anyone?"
The administration's comments were in response to recommendations in the scathing external audit of the troubled fire hall program.
The fire hall project had a total budget of $15.3 million but ended up costing $18.6 million. That figure is expected to climb after the city finalizes the purchase for the land where the Taylor station was built.
The administration's self-assessment of its actions is in stark contrast to the findings of the team of forensic auditors from Ernst & Young, which concluded the fire hall project was marred by severe mismanagement and an uncompetitive bidding process that favoured local developer Shindico Realty.
Council subsequently agreed to hire an outside law firm to determine whether the administration did anything illegal or exposed the city to a lawsuit.
Chief financial officer Mike Ruta defended the public service's work on the fire hall project and the wording in the administrative report, telling the committee the public service interpreted city bylaws with the best of intentions.
"It's important to know that right through the whole process, the administration, through due process and best intentions and also following policies and procedures we interpret on an ongoing basis, were following best practices of the city," Ruta said, adding it will take time to implement all of the recommendations from the audit.
Craig said the administration's response ignores several serious inappropriate actions as the fire halls were constructed.
"I don't think the public would buy that the administration followed City of Winnipeg bylaws when councillors were kept completely in the dark about what has happening... when the truth was withheld from councillors trying to understand what has happening," Craig said.
Coun. Paula Havixbeck said too many people are obsessed with assigning blame while no effort is being done to ensure the mistakes aren't repeated. "We just need to own what we own and start working towards cleaning things up."
Mayor Sam Katz said later he was troubled by some of the administration's actions throughout the project but believed no member of the public service had breached any civic policies or bylaws.
"There are definitely several things that are of major concern to me," Katz said, singling out building one of the fire halls on land the city doesn't own.