"Confusion" with a new record keeping system was behind reported failures in the oversight of city demolitions by the Department of LIcenses & Inspections, a new city inspector general's report charges.
Mayor Michael Nutter ordered Inspector General Amy Kurland to investigate errors and report on Licenses & Inspections record-keeping after the Philadelphia Inquirer reported in October that 80 percent of demolitions were not properly inspected under the department's new guidelines.
The new guidelines for record-keeping were put in place after the June 2013 Salvation Army building collapse that was caused by an unsafe demolition. The collapse killed six people and wounded 13.
While Kurland’s investigation confirmed the Inquirer’s reports that some inspection records were inaccurate, she said the inaccuracies were not intentional.
“There was a confluence of problems,” Kurland said. “There were issues with leadership … Sometimes more than one inspector was assigned to inspect a certain property. The computer issues were huge.”
But City Controller Alan Butkovitz said Kurland's review didn't take the allegations seriously enough.
"She [Kurland] does a review and comes back and says, 'It's true — don't worry about it?'" Butkovitz asked.
Kurland's audit found "widespread confusion in L&I about when and why to mark an inspection 'passed,'" according to a press release from the Inspector General's office.
According to the Inquirer article that touched off Kurland's review, based on a review of records by anonymous inspectors, only 17 percent of demolitions were correctly inspected by L&I and some L&I records contained contradictory information. The article also claimed some computer records were altered to conceal errors, which Kurland said she found to be not true.
Butkovitz was skeptical of Kurland's entire review.
"It's not the investigation or audit it's being promoted as. It looks like the mayor and inspector general were determined to put a good spin on it," he said. "They were focused on characterizing the findings as not important."
Kurland disagreed, saying that was “absolutely not” the case.
“In October Mayor Nutter asked us to look into these 100 properties. … I’ve had no contact with the mayor since then,” she said. “He certainly didn’t instruct me to put any kind of spin on it, just to find the facts, which is what we did.”
Kurland pointed out that the L&I record-keeping computer system, HANSEN, requires five inspections per property -- which are specific to parts of the building like the third floor or basement.
“If you have a one-story garage with no basement, it is impossible to do the five inspections,” Kurland said. “In order to get through the computer system, you have to enter something on each of those five things.”
That is why some inspections improperly include “waive” and “pass,” she said.
“We didn’t just take what some anonymous inspector said,” Kurland said. “We interviewed every single inspector.”
Kurland’s report concludes with several recommendations for L&I going forward, specifically: retraining inspectors in how to use HANSEN, improving inspection scheduling, and evaluating L&I’s workload.
Butkovtiz said he is "optimistic" about incoming L&I commissioner David Perri, who will lead the agency beginning in January under mayor-elect Jim Kenney.
"David Perri has a very good reputation," he said. "We will continue to review L&I's progress."