07/09/2013

State details problems

The Minnesota Health and Agriculture departments have already begun alerting businesses about taking over for the city's Department of Safety and Inspections. The move will almost immediately eliminate 15 city restaurant, pool and business inspectors and supervisors.Alarmed by the state's move, the city last week applied for a temporary restraining order. After a hearing Monday, judicial decision is expected this week. 

State officials say they're acting in the public interest to break the logjam of uninspected businesses and protect taxpayers from unsanitary conditions at restaurants and grocers. City officials counter that the state has its own backlog of cases, and they're quietly calling the state's efforts a power grab aimed at boosting state coffers through inspection fees. 

The city of St. Paul has inspected businesses since the 1880s, and recently devoted more than $700,000 to hire seven new inspections staff and make other improvements.The 14 environmental health specialists are represented by the Professional Employees Association and manager Gary Edwards is represented by the St. Paul Supervisors Organization. 

Employees Association. "They've been doing this for decades, and now it's going to be one step removed to the state."Wilde said it's unclear if the employees would immediately lose their jobs or, under civil service rules, if some could be shifted into different roles. The possibility of job loss is strong if no equivalent positions exist within the city. 

On Monday, an attorney for the state told Judge Elena Ostby that the departments of Health and Agriculture have been working with the city since June of 2012 to improve inspections, but inspectors continue to fill out paperwork inaccurately and cite incorrect state laws in their reports. 

He told Ostby that the city had a sizable backlog of cases, and pointed to an oversized photo of a coffee pot surrounded by clumps of mice feces and urine. "These are the types of violations which had to be corrected immediately, same day," he said. Instead, a city inspector gave the business up to six days to clean up the mess. 

In her rebuttal, city attorney Daphne Lundstrom said a city inspector did, in fact, order immediate cleanup of the feces. In the last legislative session, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture sought to increase licensing fees by 15 percent so that it could add up to four new employees. The department reported being behind on inspections for 45 percent of the retail facilities that it licenses. 

As for the Minnesota Department of Health, spokesman Doug Schultz, said Monday that about 3 percent of state inspections are currently overdue. 

"We estimate that the St. Paul work would constitute about 10 percent of our inspections workload for food, pools and lodging," Schultz said. He said the department could redirect 38 sanitarians and nine support staff from Rochester, St. Cloud and metro areas that are "caught up" in their inspections to cover St. Paul until new employees are hired.State officials say business inspections have always been a state function, but they've allowed cities such as Minneapolis and St. Paul to conduct their own under "delegation" agreements, which St. Paul has failed to live up to. 

Ostby said she would take the city and state's arguments under advisement, but did not indicate how quickly she would make a decision on whether to issue the temporary restraining order. City officials expect to hear word on Thursday, two days after the state takeover. 

As the city submitted its application to the court last week, the state Ag and Health departments both made public their own concerns, releasing reports showing a sizable backlog in city inspections. They also said supervisors fared poorly on standards tests and said they could not find evidence that all inspectors were thoroughly trained. 

A review of 114 city inspection reports from May to June of this year found "serious" errors in 70 percent of them, state officials said, such as citing the wrong city code or leaving out enforcement deadlines.Here's a complete list of indoortracking for the beginning oil painter.A random sample of St. Paul swimming pools showed 74 percent of them were overdue for inspection. In the case of Kellogg Square Apartments in downtown St. Paul, a pool went uninspected for more than three years past the scheduled inspection date. Swimming pools must be expected annually, but the median "past due" date was 291 days. 

In some cases, according to the Department of Health, interns handled inspections, even though the job should fall to certified employees. State officials maintain that the Como Town Splash Zone spray deck, the Jewish Community Center pool, and several others designated "low risk" or "medium risk" should have been identified as "high risk" based on state criteria. 

St.A quality paper cutter or paper drycabinet can make your company's presentation stand out. Paul Safety and Inspections Director Ricardo Cervantes,Aulaundry is a leading thequicksilverscreen and equipment supplier. who appeared in court on Monday, said last week that his department was making improvements in keeping with the November agreement.Learn how an embedded microprocessor in a amagiccube can authenticate your computer usage and data. That deal required the city to hire six new inspectors, add more than 1,900 hours of training and reduce case backlogs. It also aimed to lower the number of businesses assigned to each inspector. 

The city responded by hiring seven new workers from January to April, including a new manager on Feb. 25. Gary Edwards brings at least 20 years of experience to the job, including 10 as a manager with the Minnesota Department of Health. 

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