City silently unwraps new code of conduct
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 01/08/2019 (1396 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
In an act of extreme irony, just a few days after it fired six employees of the planning, property and development department for various acts of misconduct, the City of Winnipeg circulated a new code of conduct and conflict of interest policy to all reaches of the civic bureaucracy.
The ethical guidelines had been in the works for the better part of four years, so this was not something sparked by recent events. Even so, it was interesting — without any advance warning — the two new policies arrived in the inboxes of city employees July 23 with all of the pomp and circumstance of a spam offer for a discounted magazine subscription.
According to civic officials, the code of conduct outlines “core values, behavioural expectations and examples of the conduct we expect from all City of Winnipeg employees.” Lofty goals that seemed pertinent in the wake of the PPD scandal, where a privately funded investigation found evidence city inspectors were neglecting their duties in favour of leisurely lunches, shopping excursions and personal errands.
City of Winnipeg Conflict of Interest policy
Would the new policies have curbed the misconduct? Unlikely.
Formal, written codes of conduct are not really preventative. They are more effective as legal backstops, when an employer needs to take action against a misbehaving employee.
All available evidence from the PPD story revealed a willful and abusive disregard for work duties. In other words, the folks who were terminated knew what they were doing was wrong, and did it anyway.
More troubling is the fact the city declined to publicize the new code of conduct and conflict of interest policy. No news release, news conference, or commentary from anyone on city council.
Perhaps council and senior bureaucrats were simply trying to avoid the snickers that would inevitably come with publicizing such a glaring irony.
Delivering new policies on ethical standards for employees a week after six were fired for ethical breaches is, if nothing else, hilariously poor timing. Unless of course, you attempt to link the two stories and represent the new policies as a modest attempt to curb bad behaviour.
Of course, to effectively do that, you’d have to be willing to discuss a myriad of broader issues raised by the PPD scandal. It is something the city just refuses to do — to the detriment of both taxpayers and other civic employees who put in a solid day’s work.
This kind of abuse may not be a problem in other departments. The plural of anecdote is not data, and the cumulative effect of the private and city investigations into inspectors falls well short of establishing similar problems in other bureaus. However, there are certain issues that should be explored.
Among civic employees, it’s well-known “inside” workers toil under far greater levels of oversight than “outside” workers. People who work for the city were hardly surprised inspectors were caught abusing their independence and they are angry no one in charge — not Mayor Brian Bowman nor any member of council or senior bureaucrat — has attempted to make that important point.
And how could they? The first response from senior bureaucrats was to defend PPD.
When details of the private investigation was first made public in a series of stories in the Free Press, department director John Kiernan said he was “surprised” at the serious nature of the allegations. He told councillors, by all indications, the inspectors were doing a good a job of issuing permits within industry-accepted timelines.
That was a remarkable statement, given just about everyone in the civic bureaucracy knows there have been many complaints directed at city inspectors, for many years. Even after the firings, Kiernan’s comments continue to hang in the air.
How did Kiernan and other managers overlook the misconduct we now know was rampant? Do similar problems exist in other departments? If not, and those departments involve outside workers with some degree of independence in their daily tasks, how do managers keep track of them?
In the face of all these questions, both the political and administrative arms of civic government have maintained an uneasy silence. The results of the internal investigation that led to the six terminations remains under wraps, with no firm pledge to make the details public.
How can a mayor and council sworn to accountability and transparency stand by and let this story fester in a swamp of mystery and innuendo? It boggles the mind.
Need more irony? How can a mayor and council sworn to accountability and transparency stand by and let this story fester in a swamp of mystery and innuendo? It boggles the mind.
It’s interesting to note when a new code of conduct for city councillors was unveiled in 2018, everyone rushed to ensure it was publicized and debated in public. Clearly, council wanted Winnipeggers to know they were at least trying to hold themselves to higher moral and ethical standards.
It’s too bad they didn’t do the same thing with the new policies governing employee conduct.
Perhaps, one day soon, the mayor and council will realize keeping an uneasy silence not only shields other unethical employees, but also smears the ones that put in a full day’s work.
Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.