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This article was published 11/4/2019 (527 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It has often been said that the first step towards solving a problem is admitting that you have one. If that’s true, then it’s time for Winnipeg city council to admit that it cannot fairly or sufficiently investigate its own planning department.
This is an obvious conclusion following the unprecedented revelation of the questionable work ethic of permit inspectors in the city’s planning, property and development department. A private investigator, hired by a group of aggrieved citizens who were concerned about delays in obtaining permit approvals, documented dozens of examples of inspectors from the planning department engaged in all manner of personal activities on taxpayer time.
These included extra long lunches and coffee breaks, errands and shopping trips, and household chores. It’s a damning indictment of a civic service that, quite frankly, has been the subject of great concern for a very long time.
That last point should not be overlooked. The city’s planning department, and in particular the process for applying and gaining approval for permits, has been the bane of many Winnipeggers’ existence. The citizen activists who paid for the services of the investigator said they were motivated by lengthy and unexplained delays in obtaining permits for their projects. The citizens noted that their decision to pay for a private investigator came only after their complaints to the department fell on deaf ears.
And therein lies the rub: the city, at both the elected and administrative levels, must be aware that the planning department is a source of great frustration. Outside the city hall chamber, the bulk of the work performed by councillors is receiving, documenting and investigating complaints from their constituents about civic services. Is there any possibility that the level of distrust and disapproval that many citizens have of the planning department could have been missed in that process? Unlikely.
It appears that city council and the senior level of civic administration have turned a blind eye to the concerns about permit inspectors. And for that reason, the city has lost the moral authority to conduct a thorough and objective investigation of the planning department.
An investigation is already ongoing, of course. It’s an internal investigation that involves the union representing the inspectors. In many respects, this is a process rife with conflict of interest.
Remember, we do not know why the work ethic of some inspectors is so poor. Is there a shortage of effective managerial oversight, or are the managers supervising the inspectors corrupt or incompetent? Is this all inspectors, or just a few bad apples who could spoil the bunch? Is there a broader problem of culture in the department, or is this just the evidence of a rogue cell within an otherwise functional civic department?
Asking the people who are ultimately accountable for failures of this kind, and the union representing the inspectors who allegedly failed in the commission of their duties, will produce a report that, frankly, cannot be trusted.
An investigation should be carried out by an independent third party, hired by and reporting directly to council. The results of that investigation should be made fully public, along with any details of discipline handed out to individual inspectors.
Right now, the city is engaged in a process that simply cannot offer a fair and balanced account of the problems in the planning department. Council should move with haste to launch a more thorough and independent investigation. That is fair not only for taxpayers, but also for the permit inspectors.
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