'Capricious, inflexible, inconsistent, time-consuming...'

Those are among the more polite words used to describe Rochester city employees who work with developers in the report issued this week by the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce.

The report, "City of Rochester Development Services Redesign," is by Glenn Dorfman of Common Sense Solutions, a consulting firm in Shoreview, Minn., and gives some intriguing glimpses into the world where developers and bureaucrats intersect. Jeff Pieters wrote an excellent story on this Thursday.

The study was paid for by the Bush Foundation, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the Rochester Chamber. The latter notes that its Local Services Redesign Task Force led the way and involves the city, Rochester Area Builders, S.E. Minnesota Realtor Association, Grow Rochester and Rochester Area Economic Development Inc.

From the executive summary:

"After the two days of interviews, it was easy to conclude that there is an obvious and serious disconnect between the service expectations of the Development Community and the mindset of the City development staff. The development community considers the current plan review and permitting process to be capricious, inflexible, inconsistent, time-consuming and unnecessarily bureaucratic."


Among the recommendations: Both the "Rochester City Staff" and "the Development Community" should "take a communications course once per year."

I'd like to be a fly on the wall for those sessions.

The report clearly empathizes with developers who have to deal with the "monopoly" regulators:

The list of recommendations for the development community is shorter because it functions in a very competitive marketplace where market forces (customer satisfaction, price, service, recessions, interest rates, etc.) close down inefficient and ineffective producers. The City, on the other hand, is a monopoly provider of regulatory controls...therefore, it follows that the monopoly should have to change (become efficient and effective) more significantly than the competitively positioned development community.

This leaves aside the motivations that the development community might have for change, for dissatisfaction with the city, etc., which presumably involve a lot of money. Nothing wrong with that, but the regulatory and permitting function of government isn't exactly warmly regarded in this report.

The findings get personal:

The Development Community:

Feels strongly, and without exception, that City Development Staff has no understanding of customer relations.The one recurring exception was the City Clerk...Dennis Hanson, City Council President, was also roundly praised for "running interference" with City Staff. Stevan Kvenfold, City Administrator, was consistently mentioned as the key person in many any reforms "work."


Dennis has close ties to the building and development community, so it's natural that he would be perceived as a good lineman for developers. But I wonder about the word choice involving Stevan and his role in city administration...he's certainly key but how do developers perceive his role? Helpful? Not helpful?

(The development community) is intimidated by City Staff and consistently verbalized this fear during the interviews.

(The development community) believes that the Public Works Department is particularly insensitive to the cost of delays, time and exactions.

Among the "findings" regarding city staff, the author says the staff:

Believes that some developers/builders are pressuring their consultants to "cut corners" in the actual work of the development, regardless of the agreements or terms of the permit.

The report gets boring and formulaic for the casual reader after that. There are lots of nuts-and-bolts items for improving the city's service, with plenty of examples cribbed from other cities.

We'll post the full report, hopefully yet today.


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