The City of Hamilton used video surveillance and GPS records of city vehicles to investigate 31 employees for "neglect of duties, time theft and/or breach of trust," according to officials.

"We randomly selected crews and video surveillance was used on them," explained Darrell Smith, manager of roads and maintenance for the city of Hamilton. "We looked at GPS records of the vehicles."

Smith said the surveillance took place on select days in November 2012.

He added that suspicion was raised about the behaviour of some crews after the initiation of a new program in 2010 that involved the use of an asphalt recycling machine. "Because it was a new program, we paid attention to how it was being used."

Smith said that while the department was monitoring the program some irregularities stood out in the paperwork.

"Things started to look not right and it prompted us to look closer at the situation."

According to city manager Chris Murray, the investigation began in October 2012. He said the city then hired a private investigator to record the activities of the crews in question.

Though still ongoing, the investigation has resulted in the firing of 29 public works employees. Another two have been served 30-day unpaid suspensions.

Staff members who admitted wrongdoing were suspended

According to Smith, once the surveillance had been collected, staff sat down with the employees and their supervisors.

"We had some staff members admit their wrongdoing," explained Smith. "They were suspended. The other crew members who denied it were fired."

Smith said that the fired employees represent about "one per cent" of all Public Works employees and "10 per cent" of the department under investigation. 

'We're in the process of reviewing their supervisors. We're not done.'—Chris Murray, Hamilton city manager

Murray said the investigation looked at, "what crews were doing with their time. What we found was there was little work going on. Crews were taking long breaks. Some days doing little work at all."

Murray said in a press release Monday that, "building trust and confidence in our services is critical to our collective work and we must be diligent in doing our work in an ethical and responsible way. This is an expectation that the community has of us. I believe what has transpired is serious and therefore requires immediate and significant action.

"I want to stress this is not a reflection on our entire work force. The vast majority of employees of the city are dedicated public servants, providing essential services to our community."

'We're not done'

Murray told CBC Hamilton on Monday that the city is talking to police about possible charges, and added that the investigation is continuing. "We're in the process of reviewing their supervisors. We're not done."

'The inappropriate behaviour of this group of employees is very disappointing, but it is not reflective of all Public Works staff.'—Gerry Davis, general manager of Public Works

Gerry Davis, General Manager of Public Works, said in a release that, "We are taking this situation very seriously. The inappropriate behaviour of this group of employees is very disappointing, but it is not reflective of all Public Works staff.  Overall, Public Works is comprised of dedicated and faithful employees who take pride in the work they do to provide the services our community relies on."

Councillor Lloyd Ferguson is the chair of the city’s public works committee. He said, "We had a couple of examples of when they were busting a half an hour per day, which is blatantly unacceptable.  We’ve got to get value for the taxpayers’ dollar and we’re providing value, so they lost their jobs over it."

Ferguson added that the investigation is entering "Phase 2." That means the city will be looking into the conduct of the dismissed employees’ supervisors and will investigate the potential theft of asphalt from the public works department.

Ferguson would not comment on how much of the product is thought to be missing, but said that even asphalt that has reached its expiry dates could sell for $50 to 60 per tonne.

Ferguson stressed that the group of fired employees represents a small number of public works staff.  "Most of our employees are hard-working and love what they do," he said.

The union that represents the city's public works staff sent out a news release about the dismissals on Monday afternoon.

"As a union, we do not condone wrongdoings of any kind and we have a duty as a union, under the [Labour Relations Act], to represent our members, in work-related matters in all circumstances," Derron Vernon, president of CUPE 5167, said in a statement.

"We will represent the investigated workers to ensure due process is followed, and as such, will not be commenting on details of the case."