December 11, 2018

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Winnipeg's embattled top bureaucrat says forthcoming audit will absolve him

Doug McNeil, Chief Administrative Officer

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Doug McNeil, Chief Administrative Officer

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/1/2018 (334 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Winnipeg's embattled chief administrative officer says he believes he’ll be vindicated by the findings of an audit into the controversial south Charleswood corridor project.

Doug McNeil said he’s confident the audit – a review by the city auditor’s office expected to occur sometime this year – will prove he did nothing wrong, adding recent calls for his suspension and review of his performance are best dealt with through a new performance-review process.

However, Coun. Janice Lukes said Wednesday the audit and the performance review are sham exercises that will not reveal anything new about suspected wrongdoing on the proposed southwest city road expansion project and leave McNeil unscathed.

Lukes (South Winnipeg-St. Norbert) was unsuccessful in her bid to hold a special meeting of council over the Christmas break to review McNeil’s performance -- she needed eight other councillors to support her but she received the backing of only five. She now plans to bring a notice of motion to the Jan. 25 meeting of council for a review of McNeil at the February meeting.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/1/2018 (334 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Winnipeg's embattled chief administrative officer says he believes he’ll be vindicated by the findings of an audit into the controversial south Charleswood corridor project.

Doug McNeil said he’s confident the audit – a review by the city auditor’s office expected to occur sometime this year – will prove he did nothing wrong, adding recent calls for his suspension and review of his performance are best dealt with through a new performance-review process.

However, Coun. Janice Lukes said Wednesday the audit and the performance review are sham exercises that will not reveal anything new about suspected wrongdoing on the proposed southwest city road expansion project and leave McNeil unscathed.

Lukes (South Winnipeg-St. Norbert) was unsuccessful in her bid to hold a special meeting of council over the Christmas break to review McNeil’s performance — she needed eight other councillors to support her but she received the backing of only five. She now plans to bring a notice of motion to the Jan. 25 meeting of council for a review of McNeil at the February meeting.

McNeil told reporters Wednesday a review by all of council is unnecessary.

"Council is going to do a performance review of four statutory officers, including me, that’s coming up sometime, early in 2018, and that’s the appropriate place for that to occur," he said.

McNeil said he also supports Coun. Marty Morantz’s proposal for an audit into the south Charleswood project, adding he believes all outstanding questions will be answered through that process.

"Everything will come out through the audit," McNeil said. "I totally support the audit. It’s going to prove out all the things I’ve been saying about this project."

Morantz was supposed to have brought his audit motion to Wednesday’s meeting of EPC but he reported ill and did not attend. Mayor Brian Bowman said Morantz will bring the motion to next week’s EPC meeting.

McNeil and Morantz blamed city staff for failing to publicly reveal the preferred corridor route before shocked area residents, whose homes had been targeted for expropriation and demolition, were confronted with the plan in early October. McNeil and Morantz said they were unaware of the proposed Sterling Lyon Parkway extension until residents brought it to their attention.

When confidential memos and emails were publicly released in December, and revealed knowledge of the corridor route was shared among several civic staff as early as November 2016, McNeil and Morantz pointed out none of the documents clearly stated the corridor route — and said the path of the preferred route was only outlined in attachments and appendices which they had never read.

McNeil held a closed-door seminar for city councillors on the project before Christmas, but he has refused to answer several follow-up questions from Coun. Jeff Browaty about when decisions were made on the project, who was involved in the decision-making and who else might have been informed.

McNeil said he doesn’t want to identify the individual civic staff who made the decisions on the Charleswood project.

"I don’t want this to be a witch hunt. It’s not appropriate for me to hand out a list of all the people who worked on this project," McNeil said. "As Coun. Morantz said (Tuesday), there’s no one person that was involved on this project. We did drop the ball on this. We corrected that going forward and the audit will give you all the answers."

City Coun. Janice Lukes (St. Norbert),

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

City Coun. Janice Lukes (St. Norbert),

Lukes said given McNeil’s reluctance to answer questions from Browaty and others, she’s not confident a review by the city auditor’s office will get any closer to resolving mysteries surrounding the project.

She said McNeil can’t be held to account through a performance review either, adding the process requires McNeil to be judged based on a set of parameters that haven’t yet been established.

Lukes blames the mayor for dropping the ball, adding it was a requirement of McNeil’s employment contract that the executive policy committee set outcomes and require McNeil to submit quarterly reports — but she said the standards were never established and she’s not aware Bowman or EPC have required McNeil to make quarterly reports.

"I was on EPC and that never happened," Lukes said.

Jonathan Hildebrand, Bowman's director of communications, confirmed the performance-measurement terms of McNeil's employment contract have not been complied with. However, he said measurements standards were agreed to in 2015 and 2016, and McNeil was making verbal updates "on an ongoing basis."

Browaty said McNeil shouldn’t be using the audit as an excuse to refuse to answer his questions.

"I don’t believe releasing the information would harm the outcome of an audit in any way," Browaty said. "In fact, I would like to see the mayor push to have the questions answered in the interests of openness and transparency.

"An administrative assistant within public works (department) should be able to answer my questions with very little effort or time."

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Project options

GRAEME BRUCE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>The four options listed by the City of Winnipeg for the south Charleswood corridor project. Note: Road positions are approximate and based on city drawings.</p>

GRAEME BRUCE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The four options listed by the City of Winnipeg for the south Charleswood corridor project. Note: Road positions are approximate and based on city drawings.

Aldo Santin

Aldo Santin
Reporter

Aldo Santin is a veteran newspaper reporter who first carried a pen and notepad in 1978 and joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1986, where he has covered a variety of beats and specialty areas including education, aboriginal issues, urban and downtown development. Santin has been covering city hall since 2013.

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