The head of the civic department at the centre of an internal probe into the workday habits of building inspectors says preliminary findings from an initial round of employee interviews point to the need for further investigations.

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The head of the civic department at the centre of an internal probe into the workday habits of building inspectors says preliminary findings from an initial round of employee interviews point to the need for further investigations.

John Kiernan, director of the planning, property and development department, told reporters Tuesday the investigation team isn’t satisfied with some of the answers provided by city staff.

"There does seem to be reasonable cause for further investigation, absolutely," Kiernan said. "Not all of the observations have we received sufficient answers for."

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, 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 shopping trips.

The citizens, who remain anonymous, said they were motivated by their frustrations in dealing with the inspectors.

Of the 17 inspectors monitored, only one seemed to be putting in a full day’s work.

City hall launched an internal probe immediately on publication of the investigation's results. Council at its meeting Thursday will vote on a motion from Coun. Janice Lukes to direct the administration to make a full report as soon as possible.

The department employs 57 inspectors and five zoning field officers responsible for site inspections.

Kiernan earlier briefed councillors on the property and development committee, explaining that about 70 front-line staff and supervisors were interviewed over an eight-day period since the allegations were first published in the Free Press. The interviews, he said, included all staff in the inspections area plus other related employees.

As previously reported by the Free Press, councillors were told the probe is being led by Robert Kirby, manager of the city’s labour relations division, in conjunction with the city’s human resources staff.

Planning, property and development department director John Kiernan (centre) says his investigation team isn’t satisfied with some of the answers provided by city staff. (Boris Minkevich / Winnipeg Free Press files)</p>

Planning, property and development department director John Kiernan (centre) says his investigation team isn’t satisfied with some of the answers provided by city staff. (Boris Minkevich / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Coun. Brian Mayes, chairman of the committee, said he was pleased with the information shared with councillors from the briefing.

"It sounds like they’re getting after it pretty seriously and trying to get answers," Mayes said, adding he doesn’t know when a report will be presented to council.

"We’re not micro-managing it. If things starts to drift, we’ll have to ask some questions."

Mayes said he wasn’t aware of any of the allegations raised by the citizens group’s investigation, adding no such similar concerns had been brought to him. He doesn’t believe it’s the responsibility of the committee, or of council, to monitor individual employees in the department.

"People should be doing their jobs. They have supervisors, the supervisors should make sure they’re doing their job. Beyond that, I don’t think it’s our role to get into day-to-day operations," he said.

Keirnan told councillors that he was surprised by the allegations, explaining that department’s statistical data had shown it was doing a good job completing inspections in a timely manner, based on targets determined in consultation with the building industry.

The interviews were conducted by three teams working concurrently, he said.

The information collected by the city’s investigating teams will be analyzed over the next two weeks and cross-checked with car logs, mileage and inspections reports, he said, adding he believes it will lead to a second round of interviews with some staff before a report is presented to council.

Kiernan refused to say if any civic employee has been terminated or placed on leave, and would not say what information will be released when the probe is completed.

"We’d like to be as open as possible on what went wrong and what are we going to do about it," he said, adding city hall will rely on human resources and labour relations to determine what information will be released.

"Something like this undermines everyone’s trust in the public service and reflects on everyone. We want to be as completely open as possible, to be able to say, ‘Here’s what happened, here’s what we’re doing about it, here’s why you can count on us.’"

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca