Eight City of Winnipeg building inspectors have been fired and seven have been suspended as the municipality investigates some of its employees’ lack of job commitment and transparency.
The internal investigation of the city’s Planning, Property and Development (PPD) department stemmed from a privately-driven investigation that caught 16 employees on video camera making personal shopping trips, running errands and taking extended lunch breaks during work time.
An anonymous group of Winnipeggers had chipped in and hired a private investigator to track the department’s employees.
The freelance sleuthing came after years of complaints by contractors and residents about long wait times for permits and inspections.
It is unknown who is in the disgruntled group. Their legal counsel, John Prystanski, won’t reveal their identities, either.
“They wish to remain anonymous because they fear retribution from the City of Winnipeg if they identify themselves,” said Prystanski.
The group and their lawyer don’t know yet the extent of the problem with the building inspectors.
“It could be just a few bad apples, or it could be more widespread than that,” said Prystanski.
The group asked the city for a public inquiry, but its request was ignored, says Prystanski. Instead, the city is doing its own internal investigation.
“We continue to make progress on the investigation into the conduct of employees in the Planning, Property and Development Department,” said City of Winnipeg spokesman David Driedger.
The city’s human resource services department have interviewed 55 building inspectors, 10 supervisors, as well as departmental management, he says.
They examined nearly 80,000 entries made in the department’s software systems between January 2019 and March 2019, to try and determine how much work its staff was actually putting in.
They also reviewed approximately 1,500 daily work inspection sheets and mileage claims from January to March.
“This was then cross-referenced with department software to determine work levels and staff work locations,” said Driedger.
They also reviewed the video taken by the private investigator.
The city’s interim chief administrative officer (CAO) has received a preliminary draft of a report of the investigation.
Driedger says the CAO will provide city council with a “full and detailed” version of the report within 30 days after it has been completed.
Darryl Harrison, manager of policy and research of the Winnipeg Construction Association (WCA), says he believes the city is working on replacing those inspectors who have resigned or been fired.
“We were concerned that so many empty positions would cause more delays in the short term,” Harrison said. “There is no doubt that so many positions left unfilled is causing a huge workload for those left to carry the weight. We are looking to the department to fill those vacancies with quality people as fast as they can, so there is minimal delay for property owners and contractors.”
Harrison says that, although the private investigator’s video report was “pretty sensational news, and no doubt is creating some difficult days in the department,” it also seems to have spurred PPD to make some changes for the better.
Harrison says PPD has made “a positive first step” by creating a booking system whereby people can call throughout the day to book an inspection. “This is an improvement on the ‘phone before 9 a.m.’ system and it appears to be providing better service to those needing inspections,” he said. “I suppose this is a positive first step towards a web-based booking system that will provide a significant improvement to the inspection booking process.”
Recently, the WCA made a written submission to the City of Winnipeg’s Red Tape Reduction Review.
The city is developing what it calls a list of top 10 outdated bylaws or regulations that could be eliminated or streamlined to make doing business with it more efficient.
Part of the WCA’s submission dealt with building inspections.
The WCA wrote that its members have found it difficult to arrange a time that an inspector will attend a site for an electrical or mechanical inspection.
“Also, inconsistent application of the code around issues such as accessibility has been a continual issue on-site, as different inspectors interpret the code differently.”
The WCA recommended that the City invest in a comprehensive online inspection booking system for electrical or mechanical inspectors which will allow builders and building owners to book inspections.
“This system will serve as a user-friendly way to book time with an inspector and assist in inspector scheduling and time-use transparency.”