Eight civic employees have been fired and seven have been suspended as a result of an internal probe into city building inspectors’ workplace misconduct.
City of Winnipeg interim chief administration officer Mike Ruta told reporters Wednesday the investigation found the inspectors’ behaviour went beyond appalling work habits to include theft.
“Allegations were made concerning employees’ misuse of time. I want to say that we are deeply disappointed to have found that there was truth to the allegations,” Ruta said.
“Unfortunately, what we discovered was even more than broken trust. It was also theft. Theft in the form of time, and theft in the form of fraudulent mileage claims.”
Ruta was unable to say whether the city would pursue the matter criminally. He also would not say whether those employees would be expected to reimburse the city.
Ruta conceded managers in the property, planning and development department were aware of problems with the inspectors, but claimed the true scope of the problem wasn’t clear.
In total, 20 individuals were caught up in the probe. In addition to the eight fired and seven suspended, four received written reprimands and another had a written, non-disciplinary notice added to his employment file.
No disciplinary action was taken against PPD director John Kiernan, who earlier in the investigation admitted he had no idea what had transpired in his own department.
When asked why Winnipeggers should expect anything to change when the man who presided over the widespread workplace misconduct remains in charge, Ruta would say only he has full confidence in Kiernan.
Mayor Brian Bowman said the administration’s public disclosure of the investigation report should not be undervalued. It outlines steps taken to investigate the complaints, details the discipline imposed, and spells out the remedial steps management is taking to ensure a repeat situation doesn’t occur, he said.
“There are some pretty significant undertakings that need to be implemented,” Bowman said, singling out that whatever checks and balances are implemented in the PPD will also employed in other departments.
Bowman acknowledged the report does not indicate anyone in senior management, who would have been responsible for managing the building inspectors, has been subject to discipline.
However, the mayor said the employees who were fired and disciplined were appropriately disciplined. He said he expects managers responsible for overseeing them will take steps to ensure such behaviour is not repeated.
“What we’re looking to senior managers (to do) is to ensure the checks and balances are in place,” Bowman said.
Bowman said he supported Ruta’s confidence in Kiernan, adding he would also support any effort to recover wages or mileage paid out to the inspectors who had acted inappropriately.
Coun. Janice Lukes, who initially proposed the city investigation report be made public, said she was shocked to see no one in management has been held accountable.
“Thank goodness the private organization set out to expose these fraudulent activities. For years, there have been recognized problems in the department yet they were not addressed,” Lukes said. “What I found incredible with the report was that not one supervisor or manager was released. What message does that send to hundreds of other supervisors. How does that ensure supervisors are supervising?”
The probe into the workplace habits of the city’s commercial building inspectors began in April. It was prompted by the publication in the Free Press of surveillance video and notes collected by private investigators who were hired by a group of citizens frustrated with their dealings with PPD staff.
The private investigators, who gathered the evidence over 28 days last winter, found that many inspectors did little work — an average of about three hours a day — and spent most of their time having extended coffee breaks, long lunches and running personal errands.
At its April 16 meeting, the mayor’s executive policy committee directed the CAO office to release a report on the investigation within 30 days of its conclusion.
Now that the investigation into PPD has been completed, Ruta said the city would conduct an operational review of other departments to make sure the misconduct isn’t widespread.
Prior to addressing the media, Ruta briefed city councillors on the final report in a private session.
Coun. Kevin Klein said aside from vague disciplinary numbers, there were scant details. He said the report includes no plan to regain the public’s trust.
“It’s disappointing, very disappointing that a five-month investigation provides very little detail,” Klein said. “The information session today was simply an attempt to disguise this as keeping all of council informed. We received only what the media will receive later this morning. I would really like to know who the key holder of vital information is.”
“Public confidence in the city’s ability to repair the broken system will not be strengthened with what I took away from this today,” Coun. Shawn Nason said. “There appears to be a lack of accountability at the senior levels.”
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.
Aldo Santin is a veteran newspaper reporter who first carried a pen and notepad in 1978 and joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1986, where he has covered a variety of beats and specialty areas including education, aboriginal issues, urban and downtown development. Santin has been covering city hall since 2013.