BEING FROM CHICAGO, I wasn’t exactly shocked when I heard the news that all but one of Philadelphia’s plumbing inspectors had been indicted for taking bribes from plumbers.
That’s not to cast aspersions on plumbing inspectors in Chicago or any other big city. Heck, even the 13 Philadelphia inspectors under indictment pleaded not guilty. It’s just that the idea of a plumbing inspector accepting money from a plumber in return for favorable treatment isn’t such an alien concept to me or a lot of other people.
The perception that such a practice is commonplace is really too bad. In Philadelphia, according to law enforcement officers, the bribing of inspectors was so pervasive that some plumbers compared it to tipping their barber.
And, the inspectors had their own rating system for local plumbers. Those who paid up were called “good guys.” The inspectors rated plumbers who didn’t pass along money as “zeroes.”
In announcing the bribery indictment, the U.S. attorney said, “Such wrongdoing seriously undermines public confidence in the government.”
I’ve got news for him. Such activities don’t do much for public confidence in the plumbing industry either. We all could do well with a few less “good guys” and a lot more “zeroes.”
To that end, at least one Philadelphia contractor has taken positive action with its employees, however belatedly. Fluidics examined its internal procedures and controls and determined that it had a problem, which needed to be fixed. All employees of Fluidics have been notified that paying off inspectors will no longer be tolerated. Further, they have been notified of and reacquainted with the company’s policies on corporate integrity.
We commend Fluidics for these actions, and suggest that you take a fresh look at your own company’s policies on integrity. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to remind your employees of the importance of integrity at the same time.
The city of Philadelphia must have decided that it had its own problems with procedures and controls because it took some action too. It has cross-trained building inspectors to do plumbing inspections. And, it is allowing licensed plumbers to do self-inspections in certain situations as long as proper documentation is provided.
Training inspectors is always a good idea, whether it’s being done in the biggest city or the smallest burg. In fact, some of the worst stories we hear about ignorant inspectors come from out-of-the-way places. Anything you can do to assist in educating plumbing inspectors is in your own best interest.
Self-inspections are an idea worth pursuing too. Such a policy would eliminate many circumstances where a plumber feels the need to pay off an inspector to get him to the job faster.
Self-inspections, however, only heighten the need for corporate and personal integrity. The public has to be able to trust whoever is doing plumbing inspections, be it inspectors or plumbers. Most plumbers really are good guys, in the traditional sense of the word, and the public must understand that fact.