Who’s in charge at the Regional Building Department?

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On Jan. 12, the following questions were e-mailed to Sharon L. Brown, chairwoman of the Board of Commissioners of the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department. As of press time no answers had been received.

“1. What is the role of the RBD’s board and why is it constituted in the way it is?

2. What is your role as the chair of that board?

3. What authority do you or your board have regarding policy and personnel? Can you fire anyone?

4. What is the organizational chart of RBD and where can it be found?

5. What was the 2011 and is 2012 RBD’s budget and where can it be found?

6. What specific decisions/goals have you set up for RBD for 2012?

7. What annual review process have you instituted for all RBD’s personnel?

8. What complaints have you had to deal with regarding RBD or any of its personnel?

9. How have you changed RBD’s culture, if at all, to make it business-friendly?

10. If developers feel treated unfairly in the application of the code or any part thereof, what appeal process is in place to give them a fair hearing or variance?”

As I said, none of the questions have been answered, even though the Brown asked for them in writing, rather than being interviewed. Now that they are public, would anyone please answer them?

Over the past 15 years I have been involved in a few downtown developments, some fairly complex. The licensed contractors and sub-contractors, as part of their competitive bids, ensured me that they had a “good relationship” with RBD and its inspectors. It’s almost a pre-requisite to be able to complete a project in this town. Should it be?

After the advancement of the European Enlightenment movement in the 18t century, nation-states came into being. Part of their success depended on their rule of law and its administration. By the nineteenth century, political philosophers and sociologists wrote about the virtue of bureaucracies. Yes, their virtues.

The main virtue is that the arbitrary rule of a despot or feudal lord was replaced with a bureaucrat who followed the rule of law and administered the duties of the position with fairness. Fairness is defined in terms of treating everyone equally, regardless of wealth or power.

For example, no matter if you are rich or poor, you must stand in line at the Department of Motor Vehicle and wait your turn. You are given the same quick eye exam, the same camera takes your picture, and you receive a driver’s license that is good for the same length of time. You pay the same fee. No, you can’t send your secretary to take care of this task.

Most of us resent bureaucracies for a variety of reasons. They are faceless monoliths whose members exert disproportionate power without being challenged. Paperwork gets lost, responses to inquiries take weeks, and when anything goes wrong, no one is responsible.

Franz Kafka was right. In a series of books, The Penal Colony (1919), The Trial (1925), and The Castle (1926), he dramatized encounters citizens have with bureaucracies.

The faceless bureaucrat simply follows orders, as if decisions are always made elsewhere, and no one knows who is ultimately making them. Any reproach is dismissed as paranoia, and any problem is portrayed as the fault of the simple-minded, know-nothing citizen.

Rules are being enforced arbitrarily, and no appeal is ever granted. Alone and confused, the citizen has no choice but to cave, grovel, bribe, or commit suicide. As we say: you can’t fight city hall.

So, the fair bureaucracy has become unfair. From equally protecting the rights of citizens, it has become a fearsome force of nature. Can capitalism reverse this transformation? Wealthy media owners have tried to do this for decades, holding the feet of powerful bureaucrats to the fire.

But, unless you are Hearst or Murdoch, you don’t have the financial leverage to fight city hall. As dailies close or consolidate, they have become less aggressive in pursuing corruption or callous disregard to the plight of the individual.

Does capitalism have another weapon to fight bureaucracies? Wealthy citizens buy favor with bureaucrats rather than with bureaucracies, as the latest Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010) is being played out in super PACS.

Millions of dollars buy access to decision-makers: politicians who lead large bureaucracies all of a sudden court the favor of rich people. Would they become more responsive? Would they force their bureaucrats to be friendly and helpful, responsive and flexible? The jury is still out.

One still wonders who runs the RBD, the most important obstacle to any renovation or development in this region. Nothing has changed since the 1920s of Kafka, except that this bureaucracy uses English rather than German.

Who is in charge there?

Raphael Sassower is professor of philosophy at UCCS. He can be reached at rsassower@gmail.com Previous articles can be found at sassower.blogspot.com