Officials in Windsor, Ont., demonstrated a lack of awareness or complete misunderstanding of some of the most basic principles of the laws governing the city when it oversaw the construction of one of its downtown buildings, an audit report has found.

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Andrew Roman is the Toronto lawyer who wrote the audit report studying the construction of the 400 City Hall Square building in Windsor, Ont. ((Dennis Porter/CBC))

The audit report, which was released at a special council meeting on Monday night, said officials were wrong to allow a contractor to amend his bid for the construction project after the deadline for proposals had passed.

Three city councillors who sat on the request-for-proposals committee breached basic rules when they encouraged Windsor-based Vindella Enterprises Inc. to change its bid, ultimately edging out Mississauga-based EllisDon Corporation to win the project.

'Legal is going to increasingly play a bigger role.' —Coun. Fulvio Valentinis

Doing so exposed the city to major risk of litigation, the report concluded. It did not name the three councillors.

The report did not find any sign of criminal wrongdoing, however.

"No evidence that there was misappropriation of funds," said Andrew Roman, the Toronto lawyer hired by the city's audit committee to write the report. "No evidence that there was anything improper done by anyone."

Change necessary

But it made clear that the city administrators cannot continue to operate as they had.

"One of the big recommendations in the report is ... the independence of the solicitor, so he can go right to council to raise these flags, so we don't keep barging on and putting oursel[ves] at significant risk," said Coun. Alan Halberstadt.

"Legal is going to increasingly play a bigger and bigger role," said Coun. Fulvio Valentinis, who chaired the project's steering committee in 2003.

Mayor Eddie Francis said changes have already been made to procedures for future project, but cautioned "there will continue to be room for improvement."

The city's audit committee commissioned the two-part report in 2006 to study the construction of 400 City Hall Square, which houses eight city departments including social service.

Construction began in 2003 with a projected cost of $23 million. After council-approved changes, the final cost ballooned to $32 million. The audit report itself took three years and $600,000 to produce.

Part one of the report was released in February and made 19 recommendations for increased transparency, accountability and better control in future building projects.