The internal probe into the City of Winnipeg’s building inspections division has claimed its first casualties.
Three employees have been put on leave without pay pending the completion of the investigation; two staff members have quit and another retired.
Angie Cusson, the city’s director of human relations, said she expects others will be disciplined when the investigation is completed, which she said would before the end of next week.
Cusson briefed Mayor Brian Bowman and members of his executive policy committee Tuesday, and then met with reporters.
"We expect there will be more staff impacted," when the investigation is completed next week, Cusson told EPC.
A group of citizens hired a local private investigation firm to monitor the activities of 17 different building inspectors earlier this year. The results of the 28-day investigation, published by the Free Press in early April, included notes and video and photos of the inspectors who seemed to be doing very little work: taking long lunches and coffee breaks, and running personal errands and going on shopping trips.
Of the 17 inspectors monitored, only one seemed to be putting in a full day’s work.
The citizens, who remain anonymous, said they were motivated by their frustrations in dealing with the inspectors. The group eventually turned over the surveillance material to the city, in exchange for $18,000 — the amount they said they paid to private investigators.
Bowman said EPC members were looking forward to the update, adding he wants the final report released publicly as soon as possible.
"The allegations were pretty serious. We want to make sure people are held accountable," he told reporters.
Cusson said she expects to deliver a final report to the CAO’s office a week from Friday — the day after the last council meeting before the summer recess. Council doesn’t meet again until the end of September.
Bowman said the release of the report will be determined by the administration.
"What I’ve indicated is I think it’s important that it be made public. I’ll do what I can to make sure that happens," he said. "I think everyone is on the same page with that."
Cusson said individuals disciplined will not be named in the final report, adding the document will outline all steps taken during the investigation and changes put in place as a result.
Felicia Wiltshire, the city’s director of communications, said the department has been stressed as a result of the suspensions and the decision by the three other staff to leave, but added that replacements are being hired and other changes are also being implemented.
"The loss of some staff members will have an impact on our service. However, recruitment is currently underway to fill the positions and we have also adjusted workloads to accommodate the current inspection load," Wiltshire said in an email to reporters. "The biggest change that will impact the industry, will be the requirement for pre-scheduling commercial permit inspections."
Cusson said the initial review of the department records alone wasn’t helpful in substantiating the claims made by the group of private citizens, adding the investigation accelerated only when the citizens turned over their video surveillance recordings and other material collected by the private investigation firm they hired.
Cusson said that based on the surveillance material, the internal probe re-interviewed 10 building inspectors and four supervisors.
The surveillance material "was extremely helpful in helping us conclusively determine what happened on the dates in question with the individuals involved," Cusson said. "The video materials demonstrated there were inconsistencies in what we had heard."
The decision to suspend the three employees without pay was made within the past month, she said.
Cusson said the investigation involved reviewing more than 3,000 entries into the planning, property and development department’s system between January and March, which covered the period when the workplace infractions were alleged to have occurred, plus 1,300 daily work instruction sheets, mileage claims and 65 employee files.
Cusson said department reporting procedures have been tightened as a result of the investigation, adding building inspectors are now required to submit daily lists of appointments, track where they go, when they arrive for the day and when they leave.
"Those are a few of things we’ve done immediately just to try to make sure we don’t have any additional issues while we sort through this," she said, adding the final report will also include recommendations on leadership for the department and for the organization as a whole.
Aldo Santin is a veteran newspaper reporter who first carried a pen and notepad in 1978 and joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1986, where he has covered a variety of beats and specialty areas including education, aboriginal issues, urban and downtown development. Santin has been covering city hall since 2013.