Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman would like to see the Manitoba ombudsman launch an independent, third-party investigation into allegations of widespread workplace misconduct in the city’s planning, property and development department.
In an exclusive interview with the Free Press, Bowman called on the anonymous citizen’s group that recently bankrolled a private investigation into city employees’ work habits to turn over any evidence or documentation it has to the provincial ombudsman, as well as the City of Winnipeg.
The ombudsman’s office would then have the ability to initiate an investigation and follow the evidence wherever it leads, Bowman said Monday — even expanding to look at other city departments.
"I think the tools are there right now should the (group) want to have the matter investigated by an independent third party that has significant authority. That mechanism is in place right now with the ombudsman," the mayor said.
"They have the ability to investigate and expand the investigation if it merits an expansion to other areas of the municipal government."
The City of Winnipeg is now included in the Public Interest Disclosure Act, which offers whistleblower protection to individuals who come forward with allegations of wrongdoing in a public body. (The legislation was updated Dec. 1, 2018.)
"I understand (the citizen’s group has) expressed some fear of reprisal. That’s why it’s actually these kinds of situations that I fought so hard to get the city included under whistleblower protections... It’s these kinds of situations that provide individuals with those protections," Bowman said.
"When I read the story in the Free Press (first published online April 4), it certainly angered me as a taxpayer. I’m a Winnipegger and a taxpayer as well as the mayor... The allegations, if proven true, should result in disciplinary actions. If true, there are a lot of people who shouldn’t be working for the city anymore."
The surveillance operation (price tag: $18,000) which tracked 17 city inspectors over the course of 28 days reported the planning, property and development department employees appeared to be putting in an average of just three hours of work per day. (Video, photos and notes were shared with the Free Press for review.)
The local private investigation firm was hired by a group of more than a dozen Winnipeggers — homeowners, business owners and construction contractors — who’ve had negative experiences with the department.
The investigators said only one staff member under surveillance appeared to be putting in an honest day’s work.
The City of Winnipeg launched an internal investigation in the wake of the Free Press report. The city is currently interviewing members of the PPD department, and said it should wrap up its probe in the coming weeks.
Gord Delbridge, president of the Canadian Union of Local Employees Local 500, which represents the inspectors implicated in the private investigation, said he’d like to see the group which funded the operation come forward publicly.
"I think that everyone should have the right to face their accuser. I think we should get the results of the investigation and then determine what the appropriate consequences are, if any," Delbridge said.
"We don’t condone abuse of time, not in any way shape or form. We’re asking our members to be honest, I can tell you that. We hope they are being honest in those interviews."
Today, at a meeting of Winnipeg’s executive policy committee, there will be a vote on a motion spearheaded by Coun. Janice Lukes (Waverly West) seeking to force the public service to make the results of its investigation public within 30 days of its closure.
Bowman told the Free Press he plans to support the motion.
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.