September 16, 2019

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Probe must look beyond lazy inspectors

Editorial

City administration has a steep hill to climb if it wants to rebuild the public trust that was broken when it was revealed most of the city’s building inspectors were regularly loafing through workdays, many of them working as little as three hours while getting paid for eight.

An important first step will be to make the investigation of this scandal open to the public.

The public deserves to know because, after all, it was private citizens who initially investigated and chronicled the dereliction that seemed to infect much of the planning, property and development department.

Any bosses worthy of the corner offices at city hall should have noticed the listless work habits of their employees — public complaints about the department abounded — but the rot in the department wasn’t publicly exposed until citizens hired private investigators to monitor building inspectors and their work or, more accurately, their lack of work.

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City administration has a steep hill to climb if it wants to rebuild the public trust that was broken when it was revealed most of the city’s building inspectors were regularly loafing through workdays, many of them working as little as three hours while getting paid for eight.

An important first step will be to make the investigation of this scandal open to the public.

The public deserves to know because, after all, it was private citizens who initially investigated and chronicled the dereliction that seemed to infect much of the planning, property and development department.

Any bosses worthy of the corner offices at city hall should have noticed the listless work habits of their employees — public complaints about the department abounded — but the rot in the department wasn’t publicly exposed until citizens hired private investigators to monitor building inspectors and their work or, more accurately, their lack of work.

Turns out most of the inspectors filled their work days with abuses such as personal shopping, maintenance on their own homes and taking exceptionally long lunches and coffee breaks.

Footage of a City of Winnipeg planning, property and development department employee shopping at the Salvation Army recorded by a private investigation firm. (Supplied)</p>

Footage of a City of Winnipeg planning, property and development department employee shopping at the Salvation Army recorded by a private investigation firm. (Supplied)

Forced by the evidence presented by the concerned citizens, the city’s labour relations and human resources divisions are currently investigating. A report on the internal probe is expected to be soon forwarded to Mike Ruta, interim chief administrative officer, and then to city council.

Citizens might hope the report will give open and complete answers to reasonable questions, such as why the shiftless work habits of inspectors went unnoticed. Unfortunately, early indications are that administration is not eager to let the public know what in blazes was going on inside a department where slacking off was the workplace norm.

While the report on the improprieties is still to come, rumours abounded Friday that six civic employees were already fired as a result of the internal probe.

Administration was reluctant to comment, but when pressed by journalists and city councillors, they admitted the rumours were true, though gave scant details. Did the fired employees get severance packages? City hall wouldn’t say.

The forthcoming report is an opportunity for city administration to come clean and provide comprehensive answers, particularly to two important questions.

John Kiernan is director of planning, property and development. (Boris Minkevich / Winnipeg Free Press files)

John Kiernan is director of planning, property and development. (Boris Minkevich / Winnipeg Free Press files)

What action will be taken against the city bosses who were supposed to supervise the inspectors who had shameful work habits? John Kiernan is director of planning, property and development. Stan Dueck, the city’s manager of development and inspections, directly oversees the building inspectors.

The ineptitude of their staff raises an alarm bell for people who believe that, when a workplace is corroded with institutional laziness, the buck stops with the bosses.

A second question deals with the wider context: are other city departments allowed to function at levels as embarrassingly low as the planning, property and development department?

It’s hoped the internal probe will reassure the public that other city departments practise a minimum level of management 101 fundamentals, such as setting goals at an industry standard, documenting the work of employees with performance reviews and replacing employees unable to meet the goals.

If the forthcoming internal report does not satisfactorily pinpoint the inspectors’ absentee supervisors, and whether such feeble performance is illustrative of other city hall departments, the mayor and city councillors should push the matter further.

If necessary to get answers, commission an outside review from independent consultants who specialize in diagnosing the root causes of dysfunctional administrative structures.

Citizens shouldn’t have to hire private detectives to get answers about whether they’re getting good value for their tax dollars.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.

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