David's Blog

Monday, December 17, 2007

Let's Rebuild the Building Safety Office

The Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce works to identify business-related issues and trends. Once these issues are identified, we seek to advocate for business-friendly trends and change the course of trends that will impact business negatively. With the best interest of business as motivation, the Chamber is strongly advocating for improvement in how the City of Duluth's Building Safety Office handles its approval and permitting process.

When it comes to building something in Duluth, all paths lead to the Building Safety Office. It is where Duluthians, hoping to build, expand, or otherwise improve and change a structure, must seek and gain approval.

Our community's shared challenge is simple: the demand for service has outstripped the office's ability to meet the demand. At a recently held Forvm, a Chamber of Commerce member meeting, eighty interested business persons discussed the Building Safety Office's status. Duane Lasley, who leads the office, made it plain: his office is struggling to keep up with the vastly increased amount of permit requests. He shared how the amount of construction in Duluth has increased from $69 million in 1996 to $233 million in 2006.

During this same time period, the Building Safety Office appears to have suffered from a lack of adequate resources necessary to match the demand. The office suffers with an ancient computer system, and, Duane Lasley contends, understaffing. In preparation for The Forvm, Chamber staff members researched other building safety offices from similar sized communities. We found that other offices have utilized technology to a far greater degree than has Duluth. In Rochester, MN, you can apply for a permit online at any time, thus avoiding finding a parking spot in front of City Hall and standing in line at the desk of the Building Safety Office. This is one of several examples of how technology has made the permitting process most customer-friendly and more efficient.

Duluth's Building Safety Office is woefully behind the times in utilizing technology to smooth the permit process. Yet, technology takes money. The City of Duluth is broke. Herein lies the problem. The new mayor will have to reallocate existing resources, from elsewhere within City Hall, to the Building Safety Office. Will it be easy. No. Can it be done. Yes – if Mayor-Elect Ness makes doing so a priority.

Don Ness has indicated he will make the tackling of this chronic concern a priority. I believe he has the volition, the energy and the talent to provide the Building Safety Office the direction and support it needs to improve the office's customer service while concurrently making the office more efficient.

When the pressure is on, great leaders are at their best. Let's encourage Mayor-elect Don Ness and Building Safety Office Leader, Duane Lasley, to be great leaders by keeping the pressure on.

Yours in advocacy,
David Ross
President & CEO

posted by David Ross at


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