In a previous life, I worked for a reasonably large city government, and provided support services to all the city departments. One of the groups I most enjoyed working with was Building Inspections (as it was called then). But I’ve got to tell you that the City of Tampa’s Construction Services appears to be an epic failure. I’ve discovered an amazing disregard for the Citizen’s of Tampa; a significant lack of enthusiasm for enforcing even the most basic codes; and all of that at a high level within the organization.
There is new construction taking place across the street from my house. Now I fully understand there will be some noise and occasional inconvenience associated with a construction site. I can live with that, because a nice new big home will certainly increase the value of my home. However, the contractor, Mobley Construction, is either paying off someone at Construction Services, or Tampa’s Construction Services Department is completely uninterested in compliance writ large.
An issue started when the demolition crew showed up and started banging around and unloading their heavy machinery at 6:30 AM on a weekday. I’m familiar with the noise ordinance, and used an app to record noise levels significantly and consistently above the allowable range for time prior to 7AM on weekdays. I tried to explain that to the crew, but was rebuffed. When I called Mobley later in the day, the woman there wasn’t much nicer. So, since handling this situation directly with them wasn’t going to work, I was forced to consider using the proper enforcement authorities.
Several weeks later, a crew showed up at 7:15 AM on a Saturday morning, and cranked up a cement mixer. I went online to see if there was an after-hours number to report such incidents. I found a PDF document on the Tampagov.net website with general information about construction sites and the noise ordinance, along with a number to call for “emergencies.” I called the number, and it was a code enforcement number, where I left a voice mail as instructed (about 8AM by this point). I finally got a return call at 11AM (a little too late to be meaningful), and was informed that I was wrong to have called code enforcement, as they no longer enforce the noise ordinance, and that he could do nothing to help me.
So Monday morning I escalated by leaving a voice mail on the phone of a Mr. Bass, who I was told was the Chief Inspector. After I didn’t get a response by late afternoon, I drove to the Construction Services office, and asked to speak with someone. Bass came to the lobby, but didn’t invite me in, and held a standing meeting in the lobby. During this meeting he was dismissive of my concerns (not just the violations of the noise ordinance, but also debris and broken glass left all over the sidewalk from the demolition).
I asked why we bothered to have any rules applying to weekends, since they had no intention of enforcing those. Bass informed me I should call Code Enforcement. When I explained I had, and reported what I’d been told by them (confirmed by me prior to this meeting with a Code Enforcement Supervisor), he insisted I was wrong, and I could call them or the Police. He then spent the entire time making excuses for the contractor, and eventually even said, “It might be seen that we work for the contractors since we are fully supported by the permit fees.” The clear inference, to me, was that he was telling me his obligation was to the Contractors and not to the Citizens. He did agree to “send an inspector by.” This did result in the glass and debris being cleared from the sidewalk.
Sometime around 2AM on Sunday morning, February 9, someone tipped over the Port-a-potty at the site. It might not matter so much, but since the port-a-potty was sitting right on the edge of the street on the right-of-way, and they pushed in towards the street, it landed in the street, effectively blocking about half the street, never mind the sanitary issues.
By late Monday late morning, the port-a-potty was still laying in the street. I attempted to contact Construction Services, but was, again, met with only voice mail. I left a message for a Mr. McNeal (sp?) and Mr. Bass. Having heard nothing by mid-afternoon, and with the port-a-potty still in the street, I contacted my City Commissioner’s office. He and his assistant got on the matter, and several emails were flying around, including Code Enforcement and John Barrios, Director of Construction Servcies. Later in the day, someone from Code Enforcement came by and righted the stall.
While I appreciate them doing that, my neighbor once got a citation for his bushes growing out into the alley behind our houses. Now, unless the City’s entire enforcement organization really does work for the Contractors, then why would Code Enforcement clean up a situation at a construction site, but not get out the pruning shears, and trim the neighbor’s hedges.
This raises a number of issues as I see it beyond who set up the stall. As a business process expert, who has worked in local government, I would expect the following process. A patrolling police officer would see the situation, file a report which would get routed to Construction Services which would tell the contractor, who would take care of the situation. Since that didn’t happen, I can only surmise that one of the following is true:
- Either no police officer came down my street for two days, or they did, but didn’t bother to report the traffic impediment (either scenario I find, as a taxpayer, unacceptable);
- A report was filed, but there is no process to route it to Construction Services (I can help the City with that if needed);
- A report was filed and routed to Construction Services which would mean that Construction Services (since they work for the contractors) isn’t interested in the health and safety issues of an overturned port-a-potty)(again, not something I find OK);
- The report was routed, Construction Services has notified the contractor, but the contractor has been given no reason to take seriously the notices and calls from Construction Services. (My guess this is the most likely scenario, since there is never any real enforcement action, as I will explain below).
I had hoped we’d also have no more noise violations, but that wasn’t to be. I guess they didn’t bother to remind the contractor of the ordinances, or seek to enforce the ordinances, as on Sunday morning, Feb. 17, a block crew showed up to use a piece of heavy equipment to pre-position the concrete blocks on the second floor…at 7:15AM. When I went out, and advised them of the 10AM restriction for Sunday mornings, I was called a couple of obscene names, and they proceeded with their work. This time, I called the Police Department. Two officers responded promptly, and seemed better able to explain the ordinance to the crew. I appreciate their quick response.
However, since this represented a third violation of the noise ordinance, I contacted Mr. Bass by phone to further discuss the situation. Mr. Bass advised me that he would contact the contractor, and advise him that if it continued, the contractor MIGHT be subject to a citation and/or fine. I explained that meant that (because I had not reported the first instance) everyone apparently got two “warnings.” As I’m looking at this, once they violate for a third (fourth actual) time, the neighbors have already been awakened four times before any real action is taken. Mr. Bass’ response was, “Yes, we’ll just say everyone gets two warnings.” I asked him to direct me to the part of the code that specified that. His response to that was, “I’m sure you have the code in front of you, and know it’s not in there. You’re just an unpleasant person. I’ll contact the contractor, and I’m hanging up now.”
Now we have yet another situation at the same job site, and it too is being neglected. This past Friday or Saturday, the crew at the site moved the port-a-potty to the dead center of the sidewalk, where it’s been ever since. Now, I might be wrong, but my understanding is they’re not supposed to be blocking the sidewalk. With the YMCA just down the street, there is a high level of pedestrian traffic, and while I think most of us are tolerant about vehicles or equipment that might be parked on the sidewalk during the day, just leaving the sidewalk blocked constantly certainly restricts our use of that walk.
At 1:30PM Monday, I called the customer service center, and was transferred to Bob McNeal. I left a voice mail. Having not received a call back by 4:13PM, I called again, and Mr. McNeal answered. I explained the situation to him, and he indicated he would send an inspector by, and if needed, contact the contractor. He asked me to call him back, and he’d let it go to his voice mail. I explained I’d called earlier in the day and left all the information in that voice mail. A clear indication that in 3 hours, Mr. McNeal hadn’t checked voice mail.
Since the situation has yet to be corrected, I called back late Tuesday afternoon, and left Mr. McNeal another voice mail. I’ve yet to receive a return call.
Unfortunately, I’ve come to believe that Mr. Bass’ inference that they actually work the contractors must likely be true. I have no evidence they are working to enforce the codes duly passed by the representatives of the Citizens of the City of Tampa. I am very disappointed.
I sent this along to the Mayor’s office, and I did then get a call back from Mr. McNeal, and the port-a-potty has been pushed into the yard, so that’s something.