December 6, 2019

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Group behind surveillance of city inspectors demands public inquiry

A public inquiry is needed into investigators' findings that allege gross workplace misconduct by City of Winnipeg inspectors in the planning, property and development department, says the citizens group that funded the report.

In a letter to the city Tuesday, the group said it will release the full, unedited report compiled by private investigators to Winnipeg administration — if it agrees to an independent inquiry. (It includes video, photos and notes that were shared with the Free Press for review.)

The financial backers behind the surveillance operation which tracked 17 city inspectors over the course of 28 days also listed conditions for the inquiry, including members of the public with knowledge of alleged abuses be allowed to bring forward their stories.

"We want to make sure this ship gets righted. We want to make sure there’s something done over this," a group spokesman said.

Mayor Brian Bowman, interviewed prior to the release of the letter Tuesday, said he is waiting for a civic internal investigation to "get some facts on the table and then we'll go from there."

How the internal investigation proceeds is up to Winnipeg chief administration officer Doug McNeil and senior administration, he said.

The City of Winnipeg Planning Property and Development offices at 65 Garry St.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The City of Winnipeg Planning Property and Development offices at 65 Garry St.

"For me, the allegations in the report are serious and angered members of council, myself, taxpayers and other members of the public service who work hard and play by the rules," Bowman said.

"I want to see appropriate disciplinary measures taken including, if appropriate, termination of employment. I don’t think employees who are engaging in the kinds of activities that are alleged, if true, should be working for the City of Winnipeg."

Mayor Brian Bowman: 'I want to see appropriate disciplinary measures taken'

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Mayor Brian Bowman: 'I want to see appropriate disciplinary measures taken'

The $18,000 report said the employees appeared to be putting in an average of just three hours of work per day. Investigators observed city inspectors take lengthy group coffee breaks at Tim Hortons, long lunches, shopping trips, and taking care of chores such as clearing their driveway of snow during work hours.

In its letter Tuesday, the group — comprised of more than a dozen homeowners, business owners and construction contractors — said the scope of the public inquiry should include "employee theft of time" and administrative abuses in hiring practices, both internal and external. This would include nepotism within the department "and nepotistic relationships between departments."

The inquiry should also include complete "whistleblower" protection for any employees that agree to come forward.

"To have at least 16 employees on a regular basis work only a few hours (allegedly) every day requires a full and concerted effort on many and/or willful blindness by the people in charge," the letter says.

The group also demands the scope of the inquiry include any possible coverup in the aftermath of the investigative report. It fears those employees alleged of workplace misconduct "may now be revising their time cards to appear to not be stealing city time."

It requests the power to appoint the chairperson and three people to the inquiry. Professional fees and associated costs with these individuals should be paid for by the City of Winnipeg and the final report should be released within 18 months, the group demands.

The group behind the private investigation, reportedly frustrated by the past performance of inspectors, have requested anonymity for fear of reprisals in future dealings with the city.

"For the last 10 to 15 years, (department inspectors) have been a hindrance to both the construction and development industry and to the ordinary citizen who wants to build or do some work on their property. We believe that we as taxpayers deserve better from our city."

— with files from Ryan Thorpe and Aldo Santin

bill.redekop@freepress.mb.ca

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