Let’s have more open decision making at city hall!

‘The fire-paramedic stations are beautiful, state-of-the-art facilities. Our emergency services staff deserves these facilities. I look forward to a day when we follow proper procedures to finish them.’

Paula Havixbeck is Winnipeg city councillor representing Charleswood-Tuxedo.
Paula Havixbeck
Inside City Hall

There have been a myriad of news reports about the audit of the new fire-paramedic station construction project and police station headquarters, the chief administrative officer’s resignation and two city councillors quitting the mayor’s executive policy committee.

The audit of the fire hall project was released Oct. 22. The report listed many very serious issues about how business has been conducted at city hall.

Among others, the review found:

  • the project was not well managed by a number of parties within the city;
  • contracts were split to circumvent council’s budget approval process while others were split with the effect of keeping them out of the hands of  the contract-avoiding authority;
  • the openness, fairness and transparency of the procurement processes used to contract for construction of the four stations is in question
  • the use of single source contracting results in the lack of a basis for determining value for money

Much of this comment was pointed toward the chief administrative officer, the chief operating officer, the chief financial officer and administration workers from legal services, materials management, fire-paramedic services and the property and planning department.

Why did it come to this?
Last year, reporters raised the issue of the land swap when one of the older fire halls – the Grosvenor station – was listed for sale. The administration assured the public and council that everything was done correctly.

At the time, I was a member of the mayor’s executive policy committee and was chair of the standing policy committee on protection and community services.

I could not get the city’s chief administrative officer and senior members of the public service to attend a meeting of the policy committee. Given the seriousness of the matter, one would think the CAO would appear to provide the necessary clarification.

After numerous email exchanges, the CAO finally agreed to attend. That meeting turned out to offer no answers.  It was not explained why the fire-paramedic station on Taylor was built on land that the developer still owned, why the project at the time was $2.3 million over a $15.3 million budget, and what the original spending amount was to pay for, or the extra $2.3 million.  The project cost is now $18.6 million.

It’s a matter of concern that a community such as Brandon was able to build a fire hall for approximately $325 per square foot whereas with these cost overruns the Winnipeg stations were in the $500 to $550 per square foot range. Winnipeg should in fact be in a position to realize economies of scale.

Some days ago, the chief administrative officer was allowed by the executive policy committee to resign. We subsequently learned that some members of the EPC had called for the mayor to agree to his termination.

So what does all this mean?
It is incumbent upon us as elected representatives to restore trust and confidence in city hall. We need to be more open and transparent and not have these types of decisions made in private by a few councillors. All members of council should be part of decision-making for the city, not the mayor and his inner circle.

As you drive around the city, notice the fire paramedic stations. Despite all the controversy, these are beautiful, state-of-the-art facilities and they provide a clean, healthy workplace for Winnipeg’s fire fighters and paramedics.

Our emergency services staff  risk their lives every day they go to work. They deserve these facilities and I look forward to a day when we follow proper procedure in finishing them.

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