We blogged a while back about the "hit squad" of city inspectors that Portland Commissioner Randy Leonard unabashedly sics on downtown businesses that he deems to be sources of trouble. We wondered aloud whether it was healthy for one person to have such unfettered discretion -- to throw the book at businesses that he alone selected, when it is common knowledge that nearly every commercial operation has quite a few code violations that the city could write up if it wanted to be picky about it. If not dictatorial, the practice under Leonard seemed ripe for abuse -- and it still does.
Now we learn from some of our entrepreneurial friends that a quieter phenomenon with the same odor of Chicago City Hall has begun to appear around Portland. According to these sources, the city's Fire Bureau, presently starved for money under major budget cuts, is purposely boosting its own revenue by undertaking white-glove inspections on a scale not usually seen in these parts. One writes:
[T]he only revenue the PFB is currently getting is from those $400 "inspections." We felt that we were being singled out for all sorts of petty stuff that is just now being "discovered" after many years in our present location. We have spent [more than a thousand dollars] on fees in the last few months for inspections and then re-inspections to see if we did what the fire marshal told us to do. It was all stuff that had been previously passed in prior inspections....Based on unofficial conversations with friends in the Fire Bureau, the reader concludes:
We were not special at all. This is the new way to get money for operating expenses to avoid having to lay off or cut down on firefighter personnel.Now, I'll bet there has rarely been a business that is happy when the inspectors show up, but this friend is not ordinarily a whiner. It seems that he or she has made a legitimate observation.
These pricey inspections come right off our bottom line, and one doesn't want to bitch for fear of having to endure more time and expense. I feel as though we are the victims of a form of extortion, but there is not one thing we can do about it.... This is another tax on small businesses that really hurts everyone at this time.
I thank you for your interest in this issue and I appreciate your willingness to keep our name out of it.
Are Fireman Randy's fire inspectors really increasing their inspection levels during the recession? And if so, why?