In Their Own Words, “Jane Knows Best,” by Scott Irlbacher

I’ve put myself forward in Bellevue as an outspoken renter upset with the lack of progress enforcing code at rental properties in Bellevue.  This month we had a large apartment building on Forest Avenue demolished due to deteriorating conditions.  I wonder how many of those tenants who had to find new housing have remained in Bellevue along with their 1.5% wage tax revenue?  Probably few.

Earlier I hinted that code enforcement and rental property reform would not come due to Council President Linda Woshner’s large real estate portfolio (18 properties to be exact).  Since then I’ve received respectful replies from both Mrs. Woshner and Mayor Doscher on code enforcement progress.  The mayor cited how he has fought for additional code enforcement officers, so I figured I would check out the minutes from the last Public Safety Committee meeting.  It turns out that the latest blockade on better code enforcement is the very Councilmember who frequently complains about a vacant home near her own: Ms. Jane Braunlich.

At this meeting, the committee was to recommend a candidate for a new part-time code enforcement officer to assist Code Enforcement/Zoning Officer Jim Delcroix.   Instantly, Ms. Braunlich recommended one candidate against the wishes of Mr. Delcroix.  Ms. Braunlich explained her preferred candidate’s qualifications (quotes are taken directly from the minutes of the public safety committee meeting):

“Mr. Delcroix asked why Mrs. Braunlich recommended him. She said she selected him because he has worked for the borough before and is a college graduate with a degree in criminology, and she believes he would do a good job.  Mr. Viscusi added that he seemed energetic.”

Apparently a bachelor’s degree in a specific area of psychology and an “energetic” disposition are what ails our code enforcement!

“Mr. Delcroix said he wasn’t sure how many people the committee wants to take to Pre-Council for discussion, but he recommends Teri Howells. Mrs. Braunlich informed him the resolution coming from the committee would be for Mark Buetzow.”

So it appears committee already had its mind made up without any input from the supervisor of the new position.  Why bother to bring it up when it appears Jane knows best (and Mr. Viscusi is right there to agree)!   Mr. Delcroix continued, this time citing specific concerns:

“Mr. Delcroix said he would really like Ms. Howells in that mix as well for a few reasons. He said that Mr. Buetzow already has another job, so the borough would have to tailor the job hours to fit him. He said the problem the borough is going to have with anyone is representing the borough at hearings. He said any candidate will be required to attend the hearings and must build their schedule around the hearings—which would be difficult for Mr. Buetzow.”

Mr. Delcroix also recommends Ms. Howells because she already has her IPM-C certification and the significant cost savings it would provide. He explained that there is currently $12,000/yr. budgeted for the part-time code officer which brings the total to $80,000/yr. in payroll for the code office (including Mr. Delcroix, Ms. Howell, and the PT Code Officer). In addition to that, a new part-time code officer will require a computer and an additional $1,200/yr. investment in a software program. Contrastingly, if Ms. Howell is hired as the part-time code officer, the borough will only have $70,000/yr. in payroll—therefore saving the borough $10,000/yr. In addition to the financial savings, Mr. Delcroix said Ms. Howells has been freed up by 10-12 hours a week because Jordan Tax Services is now doing the lien letters, and she will be able to hit the ground running because she knows the borough code since she has been working in the code department for seven years. Finally, Ms. Howells has a good relationship with the police, fire department, and Mr. Delcroix. Mr. Delcroix reiterated his recommendation of Teri Howell saying it could even be on a trial basis of 6 -12 months.”

Sounds reasonable, right?  The woman is already working with the supervisor, is eager to take on additional responsibilities, and already possesses the certifications and training needed for the job thus saving Bellevue thousands of dollars.  If you’re not yet convinced, Mr. Delcroix provided even stronger evidence:

“Mr. Delcroix said he is very concerned about the potential savings to his department—he’s saying his department because he’s the head of that department. Mr. Viscusi agreed that it was Mr. Delcroix’s department. Mr. Delcroix went on to say that as head of the department, he believes it is his fiduciary responsibility to the borough to present the matter this way. He reemphasized that Ms. Howells knows the codes inside and out, is state certified, and that there would be no training period involved. He also said Ms. Howells deserves the position as she has been stagnant too long in her position.”

Most persons would be convinced at this point that the position’s supervisor would know which finalist is the best candidate.  But remember this is Bellevue, where common sense is as welcome as alcohol sales, and the discussion isn’t yet done:

“Mr. Viscusi said he gets along with Ms. Howells, but he concerned because she is technically going to be doing three jobs. Mr. Delcroix said that was not accurate, they’re all just responsibilities she has in an 8 hour day. Mr. Viscusi said he’s concerned about what would happen if Ms. Howells has all this responsibility and then something happens and she gets sick. Mr. Delcroix said he could drop dead tomorrow, there’s lots of possibilities. He also said that the local magistrate is flexible and willing to reschedule if something happens.”

Mr. Braunlich said she is sticking with her recommendation of Mr. Buetzow because he is a college graduate. Mr. Delcroix again emphasized that the borough will have to provide Mr. Buetzow with a software license, computer, and a radio—all of which incur additional expenses. Mrs. Braunlich said the borough could give Ms. Howells sales force license to Mr. Buetzow. Mr. Delcroix said both he and Ms. Howells use that software all the time. Mrs. Braunlich said she doesn’t see why Ms. Howells needs a license. Mr. Delcroix said it is because she does the reports. Mrs. Braunlich said she can do Mr. Buetzow’s reports because she is the secretary. Mr. Delcroix said he does his own reports and will expect the part-time code officer to do the same. He said Ms. Howells does the monthly borough reports, the state reports which are audited.

Chief Sentner said that Ms. Howells is a great multi-tasker and does a great job. Mrs. Braunlich said Ms. Howells already has a job that she would like Ms. Howells to focus on. She said if Ms. Howells wants to resign from her full-time job and apply for the part-time code officer job, then they can talk, but she does not want to mingle the two jobs.”

So after spirited debate, what action did the committee take? None! Not a motion.  Not a vote. Not a recommendation.  This means action can’t be taken until the following month at the next committee meeting.  Stalled progress? Council telling our borough professionals they know best?  Just another day in Bellevue!




2 Responses to “In Their Own Words, “Jane Knows Best,” by Scott Irlbacher”

  1. I had Linda as a landlord, and rest assured, she and her husband are sticklers for the rules and very attentive landlords. I hope you no longer think or imply that she is too busy renting to care about maintaining safe and attractive property.

  2. I’ve heard other positive accounts of Mr. and Mrs. Woshner as landlords. I in no way criticized their performance as landlords – or as businesspersons. My criticism was of Council’s laxadazical approach to code enforcement, reducing blighted rental property in Bellevue, . I like many others are skeptical of Council’s promise to bring reforms to the community in this area. I’ve only been here 2-1/2 years but the whole time I’ve been told rental inspections are coming, more code enforcement staff are coming, and tax abatements for property improvements are coming. None have come. My skepticism remains because – as this post illustrates – Council members seem to think they know best over the paid professionals working for the Borough.

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