The Bureau of Development Services has suspended most of its top electrical inspectors and fired one after allegations they were meeting for brunches at a Northwest Industrial District diner while they were supposed to be examining the wiring on commercial construction projects.
City officials confirmed on Monday that a complaint they received Nov. 30 about long breaks is under investigation, but declined to offer details on what they termed an active personnel matter.
But sources familiar with the investigation tell WW that four electrical inspectors have been placed on leave, and one fired, after a complaint charged that they met as often as three days a week for brunch at Guild's Lake Inn, a diner at Northwest 29th Avenue and Yeon Street.
The city's commercial electrical inspectors are assigned to specific quadrants of the city. The complaint alleges that, by meeting at the diner on city time, the city employees were miles from their designated inspection areas.
Mayor Charlie Hales responded to questions from WW on Monday by saying that Portland has clear rules forbidding misuse of city time.
"The city has policies and bureau-specific work rules regarding use of work time and city resources,” Hales says. “These are routinely communicated to employees. In this particular matter the bureau did exactly what it is supposed to—it conducted a prompt investigation into allegations of misuse and is taking appropriate steps to remedy this situation. While I cannot discuss employee discipline matters, I support the actions taken by the bureau.”
Development Services director Paul Scarlett also says his bureau is proactively addressing the allegations.
“The reason this is coming to light right now is because the Bureau of Development Services undertook the investigation, interviewed the employees, and will be taking appropriate action,” Scarlett says.
But sources familiar with the investigation tell WW the brunches were a tradition going back years.
A Bureau of Development Services official said Monday the bureau plans to place GPS tracking devices in all employee vehicles, partly to make sure they are in the places they've been assigned.
"There are a lot of issues around safety," says Ross Caron, a spokesman for the bureau. "It's a management tool as well. If somebody doesn't come back from a call, or we hear they didn't arrive, it would definitely allow us to verify their safety, as well as respond to complaints."
Caron says the tracking devices have been placed in three bureau cars, and officials are talking to a vendor about installing GPS in the remainder of the fleet.