Sunday, July 19, 2009

Why the Northwestern is Utterly Useless in a Nutshell

When news broke a few weeks ago that a pair of small time house flippers were suing the city inspections division we actually took to the NW comments sector and strenuously advocated that the paper look into broader problems with that section of city hall.

Instead they decided to print one of the stupidest editorials I've seen in ages.

The piece seems to conflate the "urban myth" that Oshkosh is a bad place to do business with a recent law suit brought against the city inspection division, but never actually comes out and says that one of the origins of the urban myth is the behavior of the inspections division. Instead of doing some, you know, investigating the editorial gives the inspectors a gold star on the basis of one single law suit:
The Oshkosh Inspection Services Division not only has a critical role in new development, it plays a role in the revitalization of older neighborhoods and protecting the rights of property owners who play by the rules.
Yes, that is their job -- we're all happy the editorial staff has figured that out, but the real question is: are they doing it properly?

In some cases the answer is yes, in far too many others the answer is far less clear. We here at the Chief likely have less personal interaction with the inspection division than the average Oshkoshian, but what gives us great consternation about the unit is that we perpetually hear stories about poor and unprofessional conduct from the inspectors from a wide variety of sources -- so much so that we've heard rumors of a possible class action lawsuit against the city for years now.

We've heard examples of, not merely "strict" enforcement, but arbitrary enforcement. We've heard stories rudeness and arrogance. They come from home-owners, construction workers, small business owners and developers alike. These are people who "play by the rules" and are mindful of safety and property rights issues and they still get screwed.

In other words, It's not just one urban myth that the inspection division sucks, it's many different stories denoting a trend. There have been problems with the inspectors before the Delaware Street law suit and problems will almost certainly persist unless something is done the remedy the situation.

So what should be done?

Frankly, I don't know since, as I said earlier, my experience with the department is limited, but a logical first step would seem to be to assess the extent of the grievances. Since the Northwestern clearly has no interest in doing this, it may take a law suit for some of this stuff to come out, but there is no reason why people should be dragged into court to settle this. This should be a job for the City Manager, but past Managers have been reluctant to "make sure the trains are running on time" in various departments in City Hall.

We think the most practical solution would be for at least one member (optimally more) of the city council to solicit stories of past difficulties with inspectors and conduct their own review of the department. And we offer this only as a start, because most folks are reluctant to discuss their dealing with the inspectors for a variety of reasons. Some do a lot of business with the department and fear reprisals -- and that's a ridiculous state of affairs that I'm not kidding about.

I would love nothing more than to provide a laundry list of horror stories complete with names, dates and details, but that would clearly betray things that were said in confidence. And it's not fair to the department or to the six people who read this blog to just pass on the stories. That would be nothing more than hearsay -- and, believe me, it's taking every ounce of restraint in my body to not take that route.

We could go on -- but instead let's just close by bringing this back to the Northwestern. It's a remarkable sign of just how useless this newspaper is that, instead of even attempting to provide even the pretense of doing a little legwork or investigating the Northwestern decided to punt and essentially dismiss any complaints against the inspectors in an editorial. I guess in order for them to get excited about a story someone literally has to walk through their front doors with his hair on fire and say something shocking like, "There's no security at the library!!!"

God forbid they should ever have to look for the news themselves.


CJ said...

Those two brothers who made the new with their lawsuit were goofballs. There were obvious issues with them as well and the "purported" problems with the inspection dept. They were, as the phrase goes-- the weakest link. For pete's sake, they couldn't even file on time.....

I only know a handful of folks, and I mean a tiny handful. It's very doubtful they would ever come forward with their experiences because of fear of future difficulties.

It wasn't code that was the problem, but "interpretation" of code that was a issue.

Work that into the equation.

If anything is ever going to happen, a departmental audit, a feedback process, satisfaction survey, etc., the impetus for action is going to have to come from a coalition- the Chamber of Commerce, Realators Association, etc.

Individual businesses and developers aren't going to do it. There's going to have to be some type of "protection" for information and continual monitorng to assess the department's handling of problems and complaints.

I hope the city manager looks into bringing is an outside auditor in to asses Oshkosh's Inspection Department's interpretation of code.

Regardless of findings, there is always room for operational improvment. Would be a win-win for the city and future development.

Anonymous said...

Chief, this is absolutely NOT a criticism of your title but Lol I'm not sure that qualifies as a "nutshell". Unless we're talkin' some really large nuts here O_o

You do nutshell posts and you do non-nutshell posts, and I'm certain all your readers prefer the long trip thru your thought process as opposed to a fast and dirty headline-only post. So that's cool

It's taken me a long time to come to that same "worthless" conclusion. Initially I took someone else's word for that idea, then I threw that out completely and got to an "I'm fine with this" opinion. But reality simply can not support that position for very long, ONLY DENIAL can, and I have no vested interest in repeating to myself "this is okay, this is okay".
But it's NOT "not-okay" for the cacaphonous carousel of reasons that Tony "Corporate Onion of Censorship" Palmeri cites when HE says the ONW is not okay.
So if you don't mind, I'd like to take a crack at that ONW nutshell.
(if you do mind I guess I'll never know)


The Northwestern is a waste of time because it is not so much a newspaper as it is an attention whore. It is not really about news, events or community as much as it is about itself. Like that diva reporter lady in Harry Potter, all the News is "really" all about her. Or, if the ONW were an Artificial Intelligence, it gained sentience long ago, abandoned it's original programming directive, and is now consumed with that sense of Itself. and nothing but itself.

Hmm, that was a horribly bloated nutshell,
but I think that is why they don't have that intellectual curiosity you talked about. There's no need for legwork etc if each event is just a stimulus, simply another cue for the ponderous diva to deliver her lines to a dwindling yet still attentive crowd.

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