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March 30, 2006

Firefighters and rental inspections

I wasn't able to make it to Tuesday's "listening session" at which people got to tell Davenport city staffers what they think of the idea of using firefighters to inspect the city's rental properties. The reports in the newspapers (D/A) (QCT) and on the blogs (Quad City Images) (Just Cruisin) indicate there's quite a bit of skepticism that the city's on the right track.

The notion that firefighters' considerable downtime could be used for some good civic purpose is intriguing, but the management challenges to administrator Craig Malin and other staffers are daunting enough to make me skeptical, too. Throw in a tight time-frame -- Malin wants to give the city council a draft plan by April 17 or thereabouts -- and I'm doubly skeptical.

Malin said in his March 26 update to the council that the staff "does not have a plan (not even a preliminary plan) for how these services will be delivered by the Fire Department." The question that seems foremost in a lot of minds is how the inspection services will be delivered without hurting the core services delivered by the fire department. Yes, firefighters have generous dollops of downtime, but when we need them, the need is often urgent -- minutes, even seconds at times, count.

First challenge -- making sure response times to fire and ambulance calls aren't increased. How do you get the firefighter who's poking around a rental home somewhere to the scene of the fire? As quick as he would have arrived had be been at the station ready to leap in the truck?

Second challenge -- to make sure the good work done by the Neighborhood Enhancement Office, which currently does the rental inspections, continues. The NEO is controversial, but inspectors always are. There are people out there who credit the NEO with the kind of incremental improvements in neighborhoods that count in big ways over time.

Third challenge -- to train the firefighters for the new task. They're familiar with inspection work -- they look at about 4,000 commercial properties each year, concentrating on fire code issues. The NEO does about 15,000 inspections a year, enforcing a variety of codes.

Fourth challenge -- to meet the first three without driving up costs to the point that disbanding the NEO crew makes little economic sense.
It will be interesting to see what Malin et.al. come up with.

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Don't forget to take Davenport's survey on access to local government information on the web.

The city website has some strong points, but it's also antiquated in various ways. The contact information on it mostly doesn't exist. When I did the survey I used the "other" box on one question to say I want names, job titles, telephone numbers and email addresses for everyone on staff. Every other one of the Q-Cs offer that extremely helpful info, and Davenport should as well.

There are a lot of other routine services, from paying bills to applying for permits, that could be made smoother for all involved through the city website. So take the survey and encourage all the interactivity possible.

Posted by jcb at March 30, 2006 10:57 AM

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