Make Three Copies

I have a client with a multi-million dollar project requiring a building permit be issued before a specific date. Three months before that date, the client asked for the amount of the fees so that they could get a check cut by their out-of-area corporate headquarters. The fee would be in the mid-five figures. The client has a credit card with no credit limit for this type of expenditure. The jurisdiction does not accept credit cards. The jurisdiction has reviewed the plans and the permit is ready to issue. There is no extension possible. The agency says they cannot calculate the fee until they receive a form from the State’s environmental resource office concerning a dust control plan. The dust control plan is issued over the Internet. It is a one-page ministerial form. The client was unable to complete the form because it requires the construction window, and due to weather conditions, it was not feasible to accurately project the starting date until recently.

The County has no jurisdiction, control, or ability to change, review, or approve the permit from the state. All they do is attach a copy of the form–with an original signature to the plans. We asked the jurisdiction if they would accept a faxed copy of the form in order to calculate the fees with the knowledge that the original is being sent via overnight mail. No, this was not acceptable. When asked why, we were told that they had to have the form to determine how much time was involved in processing the form to add to the fee. We asked whether there was anything they needed to review, since all the form contains is owner, contractor, addresses, phone numbers, construction dates, emergency contacts, and the ADEQ filing number. We were told that the couldn’t estimate how long it would take to process the form — that is, make 3 copies and staple them to the 3 sets of plans. After a long pause, we asked if they could take the fax we send, and time how long it takes to make 3 copies and staple the copies to the plans and then use that as a guide. No, this would mean that they would be doing the same task twice, and would have to charge for both the rehearsal and the actual. We agreed to pay for both, but were told they couldn’t charge for both because it would violate a policy. It’s been over a week, and we’re still waiting for the County to calculate fees.

Signed,
Utterly perplexed.

Dear Utterly Perplexed,

This and similar problems we find in planning and building departments is why my business is thriving. It reminds me of a great story I just read in a neat new book, It’s Called Work for a Reason. The author was checking into a hotel that offers a great home-baked cookie at check in. The person in front of him said he didn’t want the cookie. So, the author said he would like to have the cookie for the person in front of him in addition to the one he would get. The clerk said that he could only have one cookie. The person in front said, so give me the cookie and I will give it to him. The clerk’s reply — “you already turned down the cookie so I can’t do that.”

Good eating and good stapling.

The Management Doctor

Reader Responses

The clerk at the hotel was negligent in not informing the customers of the “Cookie Recipient Reinstatement” process whereby a customer who inadvertently or for whatever reason turns down the offer of a cookie may fill out the cookie recipient reinstatement application form and appear before the Hotel Cookie Board to have his status as a cookie recipient reinstated. It is a simple process with a registration fee of $25.

Wayne E. Neumann, AICP
City of Missouri City, Texas


Here is a good quote to capture this.

The perfect bureaucrat everywhere is the man who manages to make no decisions and escape all responsibility. Brooks Atkinson

For this case, these folks seem to be perfect bureaucrats.

Ben Orsbon