September 15, 2019

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City 'horrified' by staff misconduct allegations

Free Press report sparks probe into property inspectors' workday activities

The City of Winnipeg is launching an investigation into its planning, property and development department in the wake of a Free Press report that outlined allegations of workplace misconduct by staff inspectors.

Within hours of the Free Press report being published Thursday night, chief administrative officer Doug McNeil sent an email to Mayor Brian Bowman and councillors to announce the probe.

“I suspect many of you have already been made aware of the Winnipeg Free Press article posted online this evening, which alleges some city staff may not be conducting themselves appropriately during working hours,” McNeil wrote in the email.

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The City of Winnipeg is launching an investigation into its planning, property and development department in the wake of a Free Press report that outlined allegations of workplace misconduct by staff inspectors.

Within hours of the Free Press report being published Thursday night, chief administrative officer Doug McNeil sent an email to Mayor Brian Bowman and councillors to announce the probe.

"I suspect many of you have already been made aware of the Winnipeg Free Press article posted online this evening, which alleges some city staff may not be conducting themselves appropriately during working hours," McNeil wrote in the email.

"While we don’t want to jump to conclusions without having all of the details, I am deeply concerned about the allegations made in this article and I do not take these allegations lightly. I want to assure you that we will be conducting a thorough investigation."

By Friday afternoon, a news conference was called at city hall, where a top bureaucrat took reporters’ questions. 

"We were shocked, pretty horrified actually.... If these allegations are true, Winnipeggers deserve better and we will demand better," said chief corporate services officer Michael Jack.

He said disciplinary action — up to and including termination — would be considered.

Jack said the investigation was launched Friday morning. He didn’t say how long it’s expected to take.

"All (disciplinary) options have to be on the table.... We have faith in our employees. We have a good workforce, we have a lot of great inspectors. So, depending on what we uncover, that’s going to decide what route we go down," Jack said.

Surveillance footage of City of Winnipeg planning, property and development department employees shopping while at work.

Surveillance footage of City of Winnipeg planning, property and development department employees shopping while at work.

"I can’t tell you what kind of discipline will be merited.... They are allegations at this point. Everyone is entitled to due process, so we’ve got to do ours."

The Free Press report brought to light the results of a recent surveillance operation into the activity of city inspectors with the planning, property and development department. It was carried out by a local private investigation firm.

The investigation was documented in video, photos and notes that were shared with the Free Press for review. It’s alleged the inspectors appeared to be putting in, on average, three hours of work per day.

Investigators’ observations of some city inspectors included: lengthy group coffee breaks at Tim Hortons; long lunches at greasy spoons, Bar Italia and Hooters; shopping at Costco, Salvation Army thrift stores and other businesses; and taking care of chores such as clearing their driveway of snow or working on a personal rental property.

Inspectors not tracked

Questions have been raised about GPS tracking of City of Winnipeg vehicles in the wake of a Free Press report detailing allegations of widespread workplace misconduct in the planning, property and development department.

On Sept. 14, 2015, the standing policy committee on innovation allocated $371,000 from the innovation capital fund to install automatic vehicle location systems on the city’s entire fleet.

Questions have been raised about GPS tracking of City of Winnipeg vehicles in the wake of a Free Pressreport detailing allegations of widespread workplace misconduct in the planning, property and development department.

On Sept. 14, 2015, the standing policy committee on innovation allocated $371,000 from the innovation capital fund to install automatic vehicle location systems on the city’s entire fleet.

On Friday, following a Free Press report detailing private investigators' findings of city property inspectors allegedly caught on camera conducting personal business while on the taxpayers’ dime, chief corporate services officer Michael Jack confirmed most city vehicles have GPS tracking capabilities.

However, the inspectors in the planning, property and development department drive personal vehicles while on duty, which means the tracking systems the city spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to install won’t be of any help during the city's investigation into the allegations.

“I’m not going to say all city vehicles, but it’s certainly widespread within our fleet,” Jack said.

“As you likely know, these particular inspectors use their own vehicles, so it’s a bit of a red herring in terms of this particular allegation. But yes, the (automatic vehicle location systems) have been installed.”

In October 2018, the provincial government announced it was installing GPS monitoring capabilities in its vehicle fleet, “to help track driving practices such as idling, speed and mileage of vehicles, as well as fuel consumption.”

— Ryan Thorpe

Wilson Investigations was hired by a group of more than a dozen Winnipeggers — homeowners, business owners and construction contractors — who’ve had negative experiences in their dealings with the department.

Those experiences, ranging from alleged long wait times for inspections to poor, unprofessional treatment at the hands of staff, led the group to spend $18,000 to have investigators take a closer look at the department.

Coun. Brian Mayes, chairman of the standing policy committee on property and development, said he's concerned that the group was so upset with the department that they were willing to spend that amount of money.

"I think it’s alarming that someone is so upset that they go out and hire a private investigator. That troubles me," said Mayes, who represents St. Vital.

"Accountability, accountability, accountability — I think that’s a pretty good mantra on this. Somebody needs to do the research and find out what happened and take some action."

Surveillance reports of City of Winnipeg planning, property and development department employees.

Surveillance reports of City of Winnipeg planning, property and development department employees.

Both Mayes and Jack said they’ve heard complaints about the department in the past, but never anything of this nature. In addition, both said they felt the department had been making positive strides in recent years to address various issues.

"The mayor, to his credit, kind of lit a fire under that department a couple years back... My sense was things were getting better, so this came as a surprise. Let’s get the facts of what has been happening," Mayes said.

Jack confirmed Friday the majority of inspectors with the department work "business hours," although it’s possible some may work modified shifts. He also said most inspectors have city-issued cell phones, although he wasn’t certain if they were equipped with GPS tracking.

"That is something that obviously the investigation is going to look at for sure," he said, adding that while the vast majority of the city’s vehicle fleet has GPS tracking capabilities, the inspectors drive personal vehicles while on duty.

Wilson Investigations placed 17 inspectors under surveillance over 28 days. Based on the latest City of Winnipeg compensation disclosure, they have annual salaries ranging from $69,000 to $91,000. The investigators said only one inspector appeared to be putting in an honest day’s work.

The department employs 57 inspectors and five zoning field officers who engage in site inspections. Their duties include, but are not limited to, proactive and complaint-driven inspections to ensure compliance with building, plumbing and electrical codes, as well as building and zoning bylaws.

ryan.thorpe@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @rk_thorpe

Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe
Reporter

Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.

Read full biography

History

Updated on Friday, April 5, 2019 at 6:25 PM CDT: Final version, full write through

6:35 PM: Final version

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