The Inspector General's Office found that the Department of Licenses and Inspections failed to follow proper demolition guidelines in nearly 80 percent of cases reviewed over a nine-month period, according to an audit released Tuesday.
The audit was launched in response to an Inquirer story, published on Oct. 25, that reported that same rate of mishandled inspections. The Inquirer story was based on the paper's own review of L&I records.
The Inspector General's report concluded that "the most significant finding of the audit is that in 57 of 100 permits, inspectors improperly passed at least one inspection that should have been waived or failed."
The audit also noted it could not "verify" the Inquirer's report that the department's internal database "appears to have been altered to show that demolision inspections had occurred when they had not."
The IG's report suggested that, instead, the discrepancies identified by the Inquirer were the result of a failure by L&I inspectors to properly input data into an admittedly confusing record-keeping system.
Reached Tuesday, L&I inspectors who reviewed the demolition records for the Inquirer report, reiterated their belief that the database was changed. "People were covering up." said one source.
L&I operations came under scrutiny after the collapse of the Market Street Salvation Army thrift store in June, 2013. Six people were killed. Another 13 were seriously injured. The Nutter administration and City Council created new demolition requirements in an attempt to prevent another tragedy.
The Inquirer found that many of those requirements were not being followed. Out of 82 private demolitions between Jan. 1 and Oct. 8, only 14 were correctly inspected following the new guidelines, according to L&I inspectors who examined the records for The Inquirer.
The Inquirer's sources said that in at least one case, the agency's database listed a series of required inspections to have taken placed four months after a building had been demolished. The inspections should have been conducted during the course of the project, the sources said.
The IG's report found that the software used by L&I required that inspectors to report some sort of outcome for up to five inspections for each demolition, even when fewer inspections were called for. Sometimes, just to close out a file, the report found, inspectors would mark unperformed inspections as "passed", which then would show in the records as having been taken placed after the actual demolition.
Mayor Nutter resisted placing blame on anyone and said there was no wrongdoing. He said the inspectors' inability to follow proper demolition guidelines was the result of too many rotating supervisors who offered an inconsistent message on how to do things.
"There's a clear indication that throughout the entire inspection department that there is a lot more training that needs to take place," Nutter said at a Tuesday news conference. "I don't know that there is any one person to blame. This is system problem. It's also a training and communication and oversight of personnel issue."
The Inspector General's audit looked at 100 private demolition projects from the same time period as the Inquirer's analysis and found that only 22 were properly administered.
Kurland and Nutter said that the lack of proper inspections did not result in unsafe demolitions.
"For the safety permits that were examined, there were no safety issues at all involved," Nutter said.
The Inspector General's audit outlines several recommendations to improved the flawed system, including standardizing how the different demolitions inspections are done and having the department's computer system match that process.