Posted Under: Economic Improvement Suggestions,Ft Lauderdale Development Issues,Important Issues for Fort Lauderdale
Fort Lauderdale’s Building Department:
Another example of managerial incompetence?
For most of us, the departure of City Manager George Gretsas has been a relief. However, the incompetent people he has placed in Managerial positions over the last 6 years will be a damaging legacy that will take years to clean out. The Police Department, Fire Department, Budget Department, Planning and Zoning and Human Resources (among others) have all been damaged to various degrees, due to unqualified Managers being selected to head those Departments. Gretsas’ selection of Department Managers has not been based upon professional or managerial abilities; it’s been based on how well these people “sucked up” to George.
The Building Department is a prime example.
The Building Department Director is currently headed by Valerie Bohlander. Prior to her selection by George Gretsas to be Director of the Building Department, Ms Bohlander served as an “Administrative Coordinator”. (Basically she was a glorified file clerk.) What catapulted her into the Head of this important Department, over the heads of dozens of people more qualified to serve? No one seems to know.
Under the “Freedom of Information Act”, I asked the City for copies of her “training certifications”, classes, etc., to see for myself what qualified her for the position of the Building Department Manager. I received a packet of documents from the City. I read through them, including her employment application: “Notary Public, Leadership Principles, 5-year and 10-year “official service award”, Defensive Driving Course, Several “Occupational Licensing” Classes, Sexual Harassment education, and so on. Problem was, all of this training was taken for her position as “Administrative Coordinator” and was taken during the 1980’s and 1990’s. No training in the last six years except for two classes: “The Road to a Harassment-Free Workplace” (2006), and “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (2007). Does this qualify someone to be the Head of the Building Department?
I contacted a retired City official who used to work in the Building Department. He agreed with me that Ms Bohlander is neither qualified nor certified to be the Head of our City’s Building Department.
The Building Department’s budget has remained essentially unchanged over the last 6 years ($10.08M in 2004/2005 when building here in Fort Lauderdale was at its peak, versus $10.9M for this year). Why is that Department’s budget still so high? The amount of building has dropped off more than 90%. The need for a huge Building Department staff has evaporated and will not be coming back again anytime soon. But an insider tells me: “The Commission and the staff want to keep everyone employed, in case the economy turns around and we need these people again”. Yeah, like that’s going to happen anytime soon.
Meanwhile, Fort Lauderdale residents who are trying to get permits for those few building projects are finding that it is taking even longer. Why? I have spoken to one long-time contractor here in the City who told me:
“It’s simple. Everyone in the Building Department is trying to find work to do. So rather than 2-3 people getting involved in a permit process, it’s more likely now that 6-8 staff people are involved in that permit. There’s not that much building activity going on. Everyone wants to appear busy even if they are not. So it takes longer, as more staff people want to be involved on those few permits that are going through.”
And Ms. Bohlander, as an unqualified Department Manager, refuses to recognize the need to have the Department reflect economic reality. Rather than cut the Department down to a reasonable size to save taxpayer dollars, she’ll continue to voice the “business as usual” mantra. There are many people in the Building Department now who have the qualifications and the managerial experience to properly downsize the Building Department and reduce costs. But guess what? We don’t have a qualified City Manager to make those Departmental changes, either. (The Mayor and Commission are prohibited through our City Charter from making any changes to City staff or Departments.)
An unqualifed City Manager and unqualified Department Managers. We the taxpayers will continue to suffer, as bloated City Departments continue operating with no reform, and our Commission unable to do anything about it.