The mayor and City Council president offered a stinging rebuke to the Inspectional Services director, one week after he announced reduced service hours for his department.
Michael Donovan, the city’s ISD director, told The Item last Friday that a staff shortage and backlog of permit applications led to his decision to cut back the department’s office hours by a third. City Council President Darren Cyr and Mayor Thomas M. McGee separately expressed frustration over Donovan’s decision, saying they weren’t aware there was a staffing problem.
“What it comes down to is communication with everybody, meaning his office, the mayor’s office, the city council’s office, and vice versa,” said Cyr. “It’s about everyone getting on the same page and if there is an issue we have to get in the same room and figure out how to take care of the problem, instead of going off to make a decision on your own that is going to impact other people.”
Donovan planned to close the the department’s service counter from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Thursday beginning in January. During those 12 hours, Donovan’s limited staff would be free to issue dozens of backlogged permits. The reduced schedule would be in place for at least the first three months of the year, he said last week.
Donovan did not return multiple requests for comment.
McGee released a statement Friday morning, saying the issue was resolved and the department’s hours would not change. He committed to continuing to work with the city’s financial team and department heads to incrementally improve staffing.
“When I came into office a year ago, depleted staffing levels was one of the top issues department heads consistently raised,” McGee said in a statement. “Even with our continued fiscal constraints, we’ve been able to make some progress in this area, however, I recognize that every department is still struggling with less than optimal staffing levels.”
In 2018, ISD lost a clerk, a supervisor, and Deputy Building Commissioner Clint Muche, which left Donovan and his four clerks trying to play catch-up, he said last week. While Cyr said Donovan did not put in for more hires when he submitted his ISD budget at the beginning of the fiscal year, the ISD director said reduced hours should not have been a surprise to the city.
During a City Council hearing on the budget in June, Donovan told the panel he would be unable to provide the same level of service without more staff. In addition, Donovan provided The Item with a letter he wrote to the city’s comptroller, chief financial officer and the mayor’s chief of staff in February, outlining a grim future for the department.
Cyr said it was ISD’s responsibility to manage the staff shortages, like all other departments, and continue regular service so the public would not be burdened.
“My concern was about having an office closed when people are coming in there to try and get a permit,” said Cyr. “(Donovan) is going to have to figure out another way to take care of the backlogs. People are making a lot of money. Just do your job. It’s that simple.”