Our BOAT Annual Conference, held this past August in San Antonio, had a class called Building Official 101. It was based on the Building Department Administration Handbook, chapters 6, 9, 10, and 11. This is a great reference material on all things related to managing a building department and being an informed building official with a knowledge base on many subjects in our industry. Here is a brief recap on some of the items we discussed in the class.
Our goal and purpose is to protect the lives and safety of the public in every building we review and inspect.
Performance Measures and Indicators
What are your targets, goals, and vision statement for the department? These need to be identified in order for the department to understand the values and mission for your plan. Your measures are based on these goals to determine quality and quantity of staff’s activities. It sounds like a basic task, but this is very important to your success.
Assignment of Functions
There are four primary functions within a department. Management, administration, plan review, and inspections. Establishing specific areas of responsibility and accountability in each area sets parameters for every employee. This helps everyone understand the work duties and procedures for every job. Functional lists should be made for every aspect of the department work requirements. These lists should be considered dynamic and will require review and adjustments.
Identification of Key Functions
An organization’s total function must be clearly understood so specific assignments of responsibility can be made. Inspectors, plans examiners, and permit techs can be easily assigned job responsibilities. Some duties can stay fluid and be adjusted depending on staff changes, personnel strengths, and capability. This is where management needs to make a decision on the best structure for job duties, staff strength, and flow of the work process. Reviewing all factors with reaching the department goals must be kept in mind for this type of analysis.
One of the more challenging tasks for a building inspection department administrator is how do you determine the appropriate level of staffing? Looking at the goals of the department and reaching them is a start. Do you have enough staff to reach these goals? Justify this with data that can be reported to city council and city management so that standards are understood. Does this tie into development in the future as you forecast construction activities in your jurisdiction? Stay in touch with economic conditions in your area and entire state.
You cannot manage what you cannot measure.
You need data to measure operational consistency. How many permits do you issue a year? What is the length of your plan review? How long does it take to process a residential permit or a commercial permit? Set goals and have staff help you understand attainable goals. If there are items slowing down the process, are they necessary? How many inspections do you have a day and in a year? What is the average time per inspection? What are your goals in these areas? Measure this daily, monthly, and quarterly. Measure it in a way that is helpful to your organization and is manageable. Look at the data, and find out if it can be improved.
Performance indicators are also necessary. Quality control of inspectors is very important. Are they passing everything or failing several inspections in the field? Is it always the same things? Could builders benefit from learning what they need to change because of your review? What are your quality standards? How does staff carry out their responsibilities which should include personal appearance, manners, public relations, record keeping, report writing, and overall quality of services provided. Staffing with knowledgeable, well-trained employees is the backbone of a successful building department.
How do you see it?
Sometimes building officials find themselves in a no win scenario. We are told that our jurisdiction is the only one that enforces that requirement in the code. If this is so, we should look at our interpretations. First, I would suggest we call or email fellow building officials on the item in question. Ask them what they do in this situation. Collectively, we all have a wealth of knowledge and can help and mentor each other into a better understanding on many issues and code requirements.
We have all had to update our fee structures due to H.B. 852, which no longer allows valuation data for permit use on residential development. Square footage formulas with a cost per have become the new methodology. However, this must also be studied later on how your adjustments are doing. Keep track of what you would have charged before the bill and how you are doing now. Does this hit your recovery costs for services? Will you need to adjust fixed fee costs or make adjustments? Analyze your information in the coming months but you need to set up a spreadsheet or look at this now and keep track.
ISO & IAS
Insurance Services Organization (ISO) assesses insurance costs for insurers based on the level of enforcement of the codes. The Building Code Effectiveness Grading Schedule (BCEGS®) is the program utilized which reviews this information provided from a questionnaire on your city building department. A rating is then assigned based on this review on a scale of 1 to 10. ISO gives insurers a rating for the city based on this information with one being the top rating classification a city can achieve. Link to all information provided https://www.isomitigation.com/bcegs/
International Accreditation Service (IAS) provides a service to organizations responsible for public safety and welfare such as building departments, hospitals, schools, and police and fire departments seeking accreditation to demonstrate their competence and reliability. The criteria for building departments is AC 251, which outlines several measurable functions of a department to fulfill in order to reach accreditation. Link provided https://www.iasonline.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/251-Sep-2018-1.pdf
You have a direct impact on the accomplishments of the organization. How you manage flows through your staff and organization. You must understand intricacies of the department, programs and functions and how they fit together to achieve the goals. This doesn’t mean you have to be proficient at all of your staff’s duties, but it does require managing your group for success.
Managing Public Policy
A building official should have a keen sense of direction of governmental leadership. Maintain focus on public safety through code administration. Be open-minded. Rethink, recreate, and re-engineer programs to deliver services. Keep policymakers aware of the goals of public safety and how those goals are in concert with their vision. Do not let performance measures outweigh performance of protecting the public through code administration.
Closing Quotes and Wisdom from the Building Administration Handbook
Simply enforcing codes will not attain the goals or build public trust.
It’s been said, “When we do our job, nothing happens.”
“It is our job to solve complicated problems, not complicate solve problems” — Bob Fowler
Preserving the safety of the public in the built environment takes a mixture of skills, knowledge of the codes and law, the ability to communicate strategies to the public, and the ability to gain the confidence of the pubic to achieve willing adherence to the safety standards.
Class notes provided by – Teresa Adrian CCEA, Brett King, CBO, Jeffery Widmer , CBO, and Selso Mata, AIA, CBO
Selso Mata. AIA, CBO
Director of Building Inspections, City of Plano