September 25th, 2013 | Aaron Mesh News | Posted In: City Hall, Business

Audit Says Portland "Provides Little Supervision" To Its Construction Inspectors

ingersollWorkers continue construction Feb. 22 on the 37th Street Apartments. - Richard Melo

Do you know what Portland’s construction inspectors do on the job? A new city audit says their employer, the Bureau of Development Services, has no idea, either.

WW reported earlier this year that the bureau suspended four commercial electrical inspectors and fired one after an investigation found they routinely enjoyed long brunches on city time at a Northwest Industrial District diner.

City Auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade says the lack of oversight is widespread.

The bureau, her new audit says, “provides little supervision” and has “limited knowledge of how each inspector spent the day.” The audit warns employee morale may be suffering because some inspectors visit nearly twice as many job sites a day as others do.

Drummond Kahn, director of audit services for the City Auditor's Office, tells WW his office found inspectors were basically free to organize their own workdays.

"Our audit found the inspectors have wide latitude in how they spend their time," Kahn says. "Right now, BDS is essentially relying on the work of the field inspectors, rather than having a system of ride-alongs, written appraisals and a clear policy and procedure manual."

The audit also dings the bureau for not rotating inspectors through different parts of town and not conducting annual performance reviews.

Kahn says the audit wasn't triggered by revelations this April about how some inspectors loafed on city time, but by the construction boom. "They're doing a lot more inspections," Kahn says, "and the economic recovery means they're going to be doing even more."

Bureau of Development Services director Paul Scarlett says not all of the audit's criticism is fair.

In his response to the auditor's office, Scarlett writes that "close and direct supervision of field staff is inherently impractical" and would mean adding managers "to an unreasonable number."

City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who began overseeing the bureau this summer, promises changes soon—including annual performance evaluations.

 
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