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  • 30 Aug 2014

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Auditors find personnel problems at agency that employs Portland building inspectors

A new city audit of inspectors for the Portland Bureau of Development Services found there are underperformers who conduct far fewer inspections than others, and that the agency fails to conduct performance reviews after inspectors complete their first six months on the job.

Auditors also faulted the bureau for having fragmented procedures that aren’t compiled into an operations manual for all employees to follow.

City Auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade released the 28-page report Wednesday morning.

The Bureau of Development Services, often known by its acronym BDS, was pummeled by staff cuts when the Great Recession caused construction — and the need for inspections — to collapse. That slashed the bureau’s operating revenues that area derived from fees.

Bureau Director Paul Scarlett, in his response to the audit, notes that he lost more than half the agency’s entire staff of 330 after the recession hit, including 40 in the inspections division, or 47% of that work force. However, the bureau has added back 45 people since July 2010 and is now filling 14 more openings.

In fiscal year 2012-13, 36 inspectors on the staff performed about 90,000 inspections. But one agency manager told auditors there’s a discrepancy between “high performers, those doing 14 or 15 inspections per day, and those . . . performing eight or nine.” The lower performers are sometimes back in the office by the time the high performers return from their field work, auditors note.

The discrepancy harms staff productivity and may hurt staff morale, auditors concluded.

Auditors recommend the bureau institute annual performance reviews of its staff, noting that peer agencies in Eugene, Gresham, Hillsboro and Beaverton do annual staff reviews.

The Portland bureau provides little supervision in general of inspectors in the field, auditors found.

“BDS inspectors have a good deal of latitude in how they carry out their work for a variety of reasons, ranging from the nature of the work, to varying management styles, to the lack of resources and technological tools,” auditors wrote in their report. “Although inspectors may be skilled and carry out the technical aspects of their duties competently, the Bureau does not have sufficient assurance that this is the case.”

Nearly half the bureau staff will be eligible to retire in the next five years, auditors noted, making it more important to develop procedures manuals for inspectors.

City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who now oversees the bureau, said in her written response to the audit that BDS Director Paul Scarlett will start doing annual performance reviews for managers and inspectors, and that the agency will assure that its procedural manuals are updated.

City auditors plan to release a second audit of the bureau in coming months, looking at how it handles expired permits.

To read the report: http://www.portlandonline.com/auditor/index.cfm?c=60923&a=464623.

Steve Law can be reached at 503-546-5139 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.