Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Building Inspection Law Shows LMC Policy Process in Action

The League’s policy committee process can take challenges facing cities and create policy solutions to tackle them—but it doesn’t work without you. The 2015 Draft City Policies are now available for review and comment by all Minnesota city officials through Oct. 24. Not sure how the policy committee process can make an impact on your city? Read on for just one example of the policy process in action:

Building inspectors sidelined
Many Minnesota cities need to have a licensed building inspector to enforce state building code—ideally this is a position paid for by fees resulting from their work. But in recent years these cities have found that when a state project such as a school is being built, that their city inspectors have been rejected in favor of Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) inspectors, who then earn the fees from these local and regional projects.

When city officials began inquiring about what qualifications their inspectors would need to complete these larger inspection jobs, they found little in the way of consistent standards or a process for obtaining what is called a “delegation agreement” with the state to allow local inspectors to inspect state projects.

Seasoned city building inspectors were particularly miffed at missing out on projects that were being built just a few blocks away from their City Hall. 

Rob Wolfington has been the city manager in Benson for 19 years. Benson’s building inspector, Mike Jacobson, splits his time between the cities of Benson, Pennock, and Grove City. Without a delegation agreement, Jacobson was passed over for several major local projects in recent years.

“Out here in western Minnesota the only real building that’s been going on in the past three years have been schools and hospitals. And the state was taking all the permit fees and then doing the inspections,” said Jacobson.

Giving cities a voice
Wolfington, who served on the Improving Service Delivery Policy Committee in 2013, brought the problem to the attention of LMC lobbyist Patrick Hynes.

Over the following weeks, other city officials were encouraged to share their experiences with the building inspection process for state facilities. It turns out the city of Benson was not alone, and a position on the issue was added to the 2014 City Policies.

Hynes was able to work with the Association of Minnesota Building Officials, state officials, local inspectors, and legislators to get everyone on the same page, and to begin work on legislation that would start to address the discrepancy.

“Patrick—frankly he’s the one that gets the credit,” said Wofington. “He grabbed onto it like a bulldog and shook it.”

The law passed in the 2013-2014 legislative session as a result of this process allows for three types of delegation authority, and clearly spells out what qualifications are needed for these projects. It’s a step in the right direction, say city officials, and couldn’t have happened if any city were to go it alone.

“The policy committee process gives you voice,” said Wolfington. “It’s a measurable goal if it makes it into the League’s policy book.”

See what policies are being proposed for the future of Minnesota cities at Submit your comments on the 2015 Draft City Policies to,

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