Lit­tle things mat­ter

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - EDITORIAL PAGE -

A sum­mer visit to City Hall in pur­suit of the most mun­dane of things — a build­ing per­mit for a home improve­ment project — ends in fail­ure. A half-hour wait in line ... and not a sin­gle cus­tomer is helped. Plan B: Go home and hire a con­trac­tor.

Fast-for­ward sev­eral months, and the project is on hold be­cause the con­trac­tor is wait­ing on the per­mit. “I’m hav­ing a dif­fi­cult time with the city of Rich­mond and the per­mit,” he says. “They are un­der­staffed and over­worked.”

We’d dis­miss the de­lay as one bad ex­am­ple if not for the fact that it’s not. It’s hard to find a home­owner, busi­ness owner, or con­trac­tor who has had an easy time with any part of the per­mit process in the city of Rich­mond.

It’s not the peo­ple in the of­fice, who seem to be work­ing as dili­gently as pos­si­ble. It’s that there are never enough peo­ple, and those few there are work­ing with an­ti­quated sys­tems. We’re well into the dig­i­tal age, and you still can’t file a build­ing per­mit ap­pli­ca­tion on­line in Rich­mond. You have to put your plans onto a CD or a flash drive and de­liver it in per­son (to a build­ing with no park­ing, but per­haps that’s an­other is­sue).

So while we will again com­mend Mayor Le­var Stoney for his big­pic­ture vi­sion for re­mak­ing down­town, we hope he and City Coun­cil will de­vote some more time, and re­sources, to help the peo­ple and busi­nesses who are al­ready here. We know the mayor has been work­ing to make City Hall work. But he’s not there yet. You shouldn’t be able to pro­pose and hope to be­gin a $1.4 bil­lion de­vel­op­ment quicker than you can get a per­mit to build a new deck on your house.

There’s noth­ing sexy about the build­ing per­mit of­fice. And prop­erly staffing it isn’t some­thing you’ll typ­i­cally see touted in an elec­tion cam­paign — but an in­abil­ity to get the de­tails right cre­ates the im­pres­sion that lead­ers aren’t fo­cused on lit­tle things that mat­ter. Re­do­ing down­town is a wor­thy am­bi­tion, but the peo­ple who al­ready work and live in the city de­serve at­ten­tion, too.

You shouldn’t be able to pro­pose and hope to be­gin a $1.4 bil­lion de­vel­op­ment quicker than you can get a per­mit to build a new deck on your house.

BOB BROWN/TIMES-DIS­PATCH

Rich­mond’s City Hall can re­quire more pa­tience than most places.

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