A recent audit, ordered by the Winnipeg city council and released in early July, is being met largely with hostility and confusion on the part of hall officials. The audit, which came about after a disputed land swap that allowed the city to build a new fire station on property it didn't own, was the result of an outside consulting firm's analysis.
The report assessed the city's real estate dealings over a five-year period. Now, the long-anticipated results — which have been labeled "scathing" — have elicited outrage from city councilors and criticism from city hall officials.
The audit reviewed a total of 33 real estate transactions and highlighted the city's apparent inadequate oversight on several of those deals. The results include information on a carwash that was unnecessarily repossessed and sold back at a loss, as well as the fact that the location of a new police headquarters, a former downtown Canada Post building, was purchased without obtaining a third-party appraisal and without looking into alternative locations. The cost for renovating this building has since exceeded estimates by millions of dollars.
The audit also revealed that land values for two significant parcels were kept secret from the city council. According to councilors, several situations were revealed in which the city council was not properly informed of key details.
Mayor Sam Katz, along with other city hall officials and a few members of the city council, has expressed concerns regarding the methods used to conduct the audit. In particular, the concerns revolve around the auditor's reluctance to interview the Phil Sheegl, a chief administrative officer who helped orchestrate many of the city's land deals, and several others involved in the questioned transactions. This conduct has led many to write off the audit as unprofessional and untrustworthy, although Katz declined to say whether a public inquiry or police investigation should occur.
Other city councilors still feel that the auditors were able to gather enough information from a variety of sources, however. These councilors believe that the audit contains well-founded recommendations regarding the city's land acquisition process. The council moved to schedule a special meeting on July 9 to give councilors the opportunity to read over the 189-page report before deciding whether the audit — or its recommendations — should be accepted. The meeting also gave the consulting firm and the city auditors a chance to defend their findings.