Be warned, this article is something of a personal rant.
I was advised by the Christchurch City Council recently that the processing of a Building Consent application I had lodged for a client could not proceed, because I had filled in a downloaded application form obtained from them in August 2011, when I should have been using an updated version of the same, changed in November 2011.
The form had been slightly rearranged to accommodate a single new tick box item, asking whether the job was earthquake repair related.
Neither the fact that I was able to immediately inform the processing officer concerned that “no, this job is not earthquake related”, nor the fact that the drawings & specification in front of her clearly did not refer to any earthquake remedial work, nor the fact that she was otherwise staring right at all the pertinent application information, on the original form, seemed to be of significance.
She was unimpressed by the sense of injustice I expressed at the lack of any expiry date or warning about checking for updates on the original form, or indeed on the Council’s own download web page for the form.
She could not, when pressed, identify any flaw with the information provided, or any tangible benefit to council or the client in my resubmitting the same information on an updated form, but it seems they are ‘Quality Management Accredited’, and they get Audited you see….
Rather than manually adding a quick note to the file, and telling me to use the new form next time and otherwise just getting on with it, it seems Council would remain paralysed with the uncertainty of it all, refusing to process any further – unless I (between expletives) downloaded the new form, filled it out again from scratch, saved it as a new PDF file, messed around yet again digitally inserting the required ‘hand written’ signature, re-imported the other required supporting documents, set up council’s required PDF bookmarks, logged on to the council portal and uploaded the replacement.
To tell them what they already knew.
Not only was a chunk of (un-billable) time & effort involved for my part, cost was likely added to the client’s processing fee at Council’s own breath-taking hourly rate.
Yes, rather a trivial example, probably petty of me to mention it … but with a city in ruins to deal with, does it not beggar belief that this sort of approach is still flourishing in council?
How is it that council employees could still feel, in the midst of a crisis that threatens the very viability of Christchurch as a city, that their own internal policies and systems somehow come before the objectives of the population they are hired to serve? Should they not be falling all over themselves to stay out of the way of the fragile beginnings of recovery?
No matter how kind a face you put on it, Council apparently remain blithely internal in their focus, comfortable in imposing compulsory delays and costs on the public, that benefit absolutely no one but the writers of arbitrary policy directives.
Because they can.
My recent Christchurch experience of course is only one small example of the mindless obstruction generated by Council employees across the country – who are all no doubt ‘just following orders’ as they zealously implement their various tick-box systems. Every Architect has their share of war stories – cases for example where months of drawing work have been rejected for using the ‘wrong’ font or page size … One case I heard recently was where the poor client was hit with a $120,000 bill for processing a Resource Consent application on a completely innocuous $20,000 alteration.
Sooner or later, shouldn’t the performance of our officials and systems be evaluated? Not against internally devised boxes ticked, procedures followed, and policies adhered to, but against the objective value they add for the property owners who pay their wages?