Rental inspection issue returns

By Allen Edmonds

allen@northcassherald.com


Dead just two weeks, Belton’s proposed rental inspection program is back from the grave.



This will no doubt irritate more than a few local landlords, who struggled for more than a year to get a clear feel for what City Hall actually planned to do with such an ordinance.


And in the end, it was the vague and unprofessional design of the proposed ordinance – a piece of legislation that anticipated none of the questions that are bound to be raised when you propose to enter people’s homes under the guise of “we’re the government, we’re here to help,” – that killed the measure.


Between a staff leadership team, led by City Manager Alexa Barton her assistant, Sheila Ernzen (who make, between them, nearly $300,000 a year), and a Mayor that claims to be “data driven,” this City Council had every right to expect revisions to the proposal through the course of the past year’s worth of discussions to reflect concerns raised and stumbling blocks foreseen.


But the ordinance that was voted down on Nov. 12 was practically the same verbiage the Cass County Landlords Association objected vociferously to during a summertime public hearing. And that hearing was punctuated by concerns raised by council members regarding inspection frequency, checklist specificity and cost – none of which were ever addressed in the final ordinance.


In the corporate world, employees at the “analyst” level (significantly below the management level of Barton and Ernzen), are typically asked to prepare proposals and cost/benefit analyses for governing boards. During my time in that world, that was probably the kind of task I was assigned more frequently than anything else.


And the No. 1 challenge involved was to anticipate sticking points and develop creative solutions around them. And guess what? We didn’t have months of meetings with the decision-makers to fall back on when trying to guess those sticking points. We didn’t have decision-makers literally dictating to us the exact issues that would force them to turn us down. We had to analyze, and we had to predict.


Therefore, it seems reasonable to expect that a pair of six-figure managers, when told exactly what the major issues and problems with a proposal would be, just might be qualified and capable of developing creative solutions – especially when they’ve made such a practice of clearing out employees that don’t seem up to their standards (whatever those standards are).


I, for one, would appreciate it if they and the Mayor would at least make it a challenge to spot the incompetence. But it’s just not. And Tuesday night’s inconceivable and completely voluntary admission by Davis took the cake.


He closed the public meeting by telling us that Council member Dean VanWinkle had provided him with a copy of Grandview’s rental inspection ordinance, which passed earlier this year. Yes, Grandview’s. A city that borders ours. A city that somehow managed to figure out how to conduct the inspections without entering an occupied residence. A city that somehow figured out how to spell out a specific, 58-point inspection checklist in order to “avoid surprises,” according to its own documentation. A city that somehow figured out how to report an exact cost to its property owners before passage.


So it took VanWinkle, a Grandview city employee himself, to figure out that it might be helpful to study what has at least gotten off the ground next door.


That apparently never occurred to anyone else in Belton’s City Hall for more than a year.


But hey, Davis is sure pleased to have that “data” in his hands now. And guess what – he’s “breaking it down” for us this week.


Unbelievable.


This all came out just as the council was preparing to go into executive session to discuss Barton’s annual performance review. Rightfully, the details of that meeting remain private.


But let’s hope there was at some serious feedback given to Davis’ signature hire. It’s not been a good year for this City Hall.

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