Long awaited real estate audit lands at city hall
Published Wednesday, July 2, 2014 5:17AM CST Last Updated Wednesday, July 2, 2014 5:15PM CST
A scathing audit is being met with criticism and confusion Wednesday. It involves the city's real estate dealings over a five-year period and stems from a controversial land swap when the city built a new fire station on land it didn't own
Council ordered an outside audit in September 2012 after details emerged of a fire hall land swap. On Wednesday, councillors got their first peek and didn't like what they saw in more than one way.
At least one councillor wants heads to roll. “I think some people should be fired. That's clear cut in my mind,” said Harvey Smith.
Smith’s feelings are fueled by an audit briefing reviewing how city hall handled land dealings for the past five years.
The consulting company, E.Y., reports the city showed a lack of oversight on several real estate transactions.
“This to me epitomizes what is wrong at city hall,” said Coun. Paula Havixbeck.
The audit reviewed 33 transactions. Results include:
- The location of the new police headquarters, which the city bought without getting a private appraisal or considering other locations
- A carwash, unnecessarily expropriated and sold back at a loss
- And land values for the Parcel 4 parking lot at The Forks and the Winnipeg Square Parkade were kept from city council
“There's a number of examples where council was not properly informed,” said Coun. Jenny Gerbasi.
But Mayor Sam Katz and some members of council have concerns with the report itself and the decision not to interview the former chief administrative officer and others involved with the transactions.
“When they found out these people were not interviewed, but other lobby groups and special interest groups were interviewed, that was mind-boggling,” said Katz.
Sandy Shindleman agrees. His company, Shindico Developments, was involved in many of the deals examined by the audit.
“To have an audit review and not speak to the people involved? Certainly not professional from any audit review I've ever sat on,” said Shindleman.
Other councillors feel auditors had adequate information from different sources. They feel the audit offers valid recommendations about land acquisition processes.
“You need to have guidelines in place to tell you how to go about doing appraisals,” said Coun. Ross Eadie.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation feels the whole thing discredits city hall
“City hall is an absolute gong-show,” said Colin Craig of CTF.
Craig wants more investigation. “The Selinger government needs to be looking at what's going on. I'd like to have an inquiry or bring in RCMP.”
Mayor Katz says this audit has cost taxpayers nearly half a million dollars.
A special council meeting is scheduled for July 9, giving members of council time to read the 189 page report before making decisions on whether to accept recommendations, or the audit itself.
- With a report by Alesia Fieldberg