Who’s really to blame?

The authors are former plan checkers in the Butte County Building Department.
Regarding your Feb. 3 Newslines article, “Bottlenecks and backbiting,” about the problems in the Butte County Department of Development Services:

The volume of permits the county Building Department has processed over the past few years, coupled with the increased size and complexity of new structures along with more-stringent codes, testifies that for years the county has needed more plan checkers. Any contractor, architect, engineer, designer or owner-builder in Butte County would probably agree that additional help should have been a No. 1 priority years ago.

We who worked as plan checkers were always told there was no money for more help, even after permit fees were increased. If money was the issue, how can the county afford to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to have plans checked by private companies located outside of the county? Plan checking by private companies is inefficient and results in an inferior product because complete files, subdivision maps and backup data are not readily available to the outside companies. In addition, the outside companies have no employees with any Butte County experience.

It is disconcerting that Yvonne Christopher has donned the hat of county building official in addition to being the director of Development Services and acting planning director. Why is that? Where are the checks and balances? At the rate things are going and people are leaving, she will soon be a one-person department. Perhaps that was the goal? The problems in Development Services are a result of poor management practices, starting with the Board of Supervisors.

Your article mentioned “administrative leave.” The public should know what administrative leave is and how much it costs. Certain employees are collecting full pay and benefits while they are “under investigation” and not at work. One employee has been out for more than eight months! No one is hired to take their places during this quasi “vacation time,” which leaves the department additionally understaffed.

Secret investigations, administrative leave and unexplained firings in the department have led to an all-time low in department morale. What has it cost the county in settlement fees to accomplish the recent employee dismissals? Perhaps that money could have been better spent to hire a few more plan checkers.

The plan checkers have taken a lot of heat over the years. It didn’t matter what the reason for delay was, the plan checkers were blamed. Now that we are gone, who is to blame? Until the Board of Supervisors and the chief administrative officer are willing to look at the real problems affecting the Building Department, the problems won’t get fixed.