Department of Licenses and Inspections Follow Up Investigation Review of Internal Communications August 2015


Audit Date: August 27, 2015

Audit Categories

  • Investigation
Controller: Alan Butkovitz

Audit Tags

  • Licenses and Inspections,
  • Permits and Fees,
  • Taxes

Description


Employees on the newly-formed Construction Site Task Force (CSTF) were paid as much as $50,000 in overtime


Executive Summary


Background

Since taking office almost 10 years ago, the City Controller has issued several audits and reports that implicated major deficiencies and lack of controls for the functions, procedures and staffing levels within the Department of Licenses and Inspections (L&I). It wasn’t until after the deadly June 2013 Market Street building collapse that the City began to initiate new regulations and oversight standards for L&I in relation to demolitions and construction services. However, as revealed in a performance audit issued by the Controller one year after the collapse, many of these new procedures were not being followed.

In February 2015, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that an illegal, unsafe demolition occurred on the block of 26th and Poplar streets, which resulted in the complete destruction of several houses and garages According to the Inquirer, a demolition company received permission from L&I to tear down the buildings without having to obtain the required permits and inspections.

Subsequently, the City Controller immediately issued a subpoena to L&I for records pertaining to the demolition that occurred at 26th and Poplar streets, as well as other demolitions that occurred throughout 2014, including internal communications between L&I officials, contractors and many others who corresponded with the department.

What the Controller’s Office Found

After reviewing internal communications as part of a subpoena issued to L&I, the following events were identified by the Controller’s Office:
-Several properties located at 26th and Poplar and on the 900 Block of Taney Street were demolished at some point between the evening of Friday, April 18, 2014 (Good Friday) and that Saturday morning. Staff in the Law and L&I departments raised concerns with a top L&I
Inspector days after, as no one knew who contracted or performed the demolitions.
-Communication between the contractor who reportedly performed the illegal demolitions and L&I officials occurred months after the incident. When the L&I Commissioner requested a status update for the contractor to obtain demolition permits, an employee stated that the contractor’s permits were reviewed several times but the applicant failed to provide basic information. The following was communicated to the Commissioner: “We may want to explore alternative application for ID bldgs (sic) – these guys just refuse to comply with code bulletin.”
-The same contractor in question was placed on the City’s Master Demolition list eight months after the illegal demolition and awarded 12 demolitions in December 2014 valued at $171,888.
-Communication with the newly-formed Construction Site Task Force indicated that overtime was prevalent for employees within this unit, as stated by the unit’s supervisor when asked by another employee if he could get overtime for a project: “Anything you want f*ck it, there’s money to burn. You can work everyday if you want”

The detailed email communication that was provided through the Controller’s Office subpoena are summarized and presented in the subsequent pages.