After receiving complaints from constituents about the County’s Planning Department, the Board of Supervisors unanimously supported my request to initiate an audit. Last week, the Performance Audit Director presented his final report to the Board which, unfortunately, confirmed many of my concerns about the Department.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Pat Bates: Reining in bureaucratic excess
O.C. Planning Department seriously flawed, report says.
CHAIRWOMAN, ORANGE COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS
One of the many sins of government that was identified by Ronald Reagan is that "a bureaucracy, once created, has one fundamental rule above all others: preserve the bureaucracy." Unfortunately, one of our county departments has been operating under that credo for several years. A recent audit reveals that the Orange County Planning Department too often puts the needs of government ahead of the citizens it is intended to serve.
As you may know, the Planning Department is responsible for ensuring that both residential and commercial construction in the unincorporated communities of Orange County is in compliance with the building code. The department's oversight ranges from large-scale housing developments to remodeling of a single-family home. Anyone who has invested in recent home improvements knows how difficult it can be to comply with state and local building codes and our planning department should be there to help guide citizens and contractors through the compliance process. Sadly, the department has proved to be more of a roadblock than a guide.
Since taking office, I have received a substantial number of complaints from my constituents regarding the low level of customer service and the excessively bureaucratic processes of the Planning Department.
These concerns led me to ask the county's Office of the Performance Audit Director to look into the issues raised, conduct an audit of the department, and make recommendations for improvement. The Office of the Performance Audit Director was specifically created last year by the board to assist county supervisors in identifying inefficiencies in government to make needed reforms.
In the final report, the performance auditor identified serious flaws within the Planning Department, which have resulted in the poor level of customer service. Report findings show that it is not uncommon for customers to encounter a bureaucracy that levies excessive fees, gives inconsistent information, and forces residents to pay for correcting mistakes created by the department during the plan permit review process. This, of course, is unacceptable. Each of these findings of poor service stems from a mindset of recovering costs for the bureaucracy over providing good service to the community.
The permit procedures of the Orange County Planning Department present a perfect case study of the harmful nature of government when left unchecked by the people. As the people's representative, I will personally be working to reform our planning department to ensure it is more transparent and responsive. Reshaping the department's mission, privatizing portions of the department's duties, and restructuring the fee schedule are all things that will be considered as initial reforms.
As a conservative who strongly believes in limited government, I know that now more than ever is the time to lessen the burdens imposed by government to empower the people. Rest assured that your fellow supervisors and I will continue to work to identify bureaucratic excess and overreach so that we can reform county government to make it more responsive to you, the people.
As always, it is an honor to serve as your County Supervisor. Please do not hesitate to share with me any questions or comments.
Chair, Orange County Board of Supervisors