December 16, 2019

Winnipeg
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Who else plays Ferris Bueller’s Day Off at city hall?

Opinion

Now that it’s confirmed City of Winnipeg building inspectors having been goofing off on the job — including long lunches and coffee breaks, and running personal errands on work time — the obvious question is whether this is happening in other departments.

The city’s director of human resources, Angie Cusson, briefed Mayor Brian Bowman and executive policy committee members this week on the results of an internal investigation into allegations more than a dozen building inspectors were observed not putting in a full day’s work.

The allegations came to light in an April Free Press story that detailed a report compiled by private investigators for a group of anonymous citizens. It showed most of the 17 inspectors under surveillance were doing everything but their jobs for large portions of what were supposed to be working days.

Three have since been suspended without pay, two quit, and one has retired.

Cusson told city hall there will likely be more discipline handed out. A full report is expected to be made public in the coming weeks.

The first question that has still not been answered is: how could this possibly happen? Why is there such little oversight and supervision of city staff?

City officials said they have since taken steps to ensure inspectors are now documenting their work and submitting it to supervisors, but why were there no such formal requirements before? And if there was such little oversight in the planning, property and development department, where else do such lax policies exist?

Because if it’s happening in one small division, it can easily be happening elsewhere.

If there was such little oversight in the planning, property and development department, where else do such lax policies exist?

This revelation also makes a mockery of claims by city officials and some councillors that the City of Winnipeg has cut its spending to the bone and there are no savings left to be had. Obviously, that’s not the case when you have employees playing Ferris Bueller’s Day Off with taxpayers’ money.

Surveillance footage of City of Winnipeg planning, property and development department employee shopping at Costco. (Supplied)

Surveillance footage of City of Winnipeg planning, property and development department employee shopping at Costco. (Supplied)

It appears half or more of those jobs could be eliminated and no one would know the difference, because they were barely doing any work.

It is now incumbent upon council and senior city officials to examine whether this is happening elsewhere. There needs to be a full review of what oversight policies are in place for all departments, including for managers and supervisors, and whether they’re enforced.

Because right now, where most taxpayers are sitting, it doesn’t look like there are any.

It would be unfair to paint all city workers with the same broad brush, and no one is doing so. What many people are asking is how it’s possible to have such weak supervisory policies — or none at all — in a $1.6-billion, 10,500-person organization?

It appears half or more of (these) jobs could be eliminated and no one would know the difference, because they were barely doing any work.

It can’t just be dismissed as an isolated incident, and the blame can’t be placed solely on those going AWOL on the job. Naturally, they should be disciplined and some should probably lose their jobs.

But what about their supervisors? What about senior city officials who allowed this to happen on their watch?

They obviously weren’t doing their jobs, either.

It all needs to be part of a broader review of the city’s oversight policies, or lack thereof, and why management turned a blind eye to staff not putting in a full day’s work.

These things can’t be left to chance. Any well-functioning organization has to have proper oversight of employee productivity. They do it in the private sector, or companies go broke.

Oversight policies need to exist in writing and supervisors need to ensure the rules are being followed. If there are no such policies in place in some city departments, that needs to be disclosed. And if they do exist, but are not being enforced, that should also be investigated and made public.

Taxpayers have a right to know where their money is going, especially with taxes going up every year and councillors claiming city hall has no choice but to raise rates.

It’s time for some accountability at Winnipeg city hall. The folks paying the freight deserve better.

tom.brodbeck@freepress.mb.ca

Tom Brodbeck

Tom Brodbeck
Columnist

Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.

Read full biography

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