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North Pinellas editorial:

Dunedin City Manager Rob DiSpirito has a customer service ethic. It is apparent in many of the changes that he has implemented in his 15 months on the job. ¶ Most visible to the public, perhaps, are the improvements to the city's Web site. It has morphed from a site that was awkward to use and contained little useful information into a refreshingly open portal into the city's business. The site constantly seeks feedback from residents, posts up-to-the-minute information, provides numerous ways for residents to contact the city to ask questions or complain, and the city manager even advertises his phone number there. DiSpirito believes the site can be improved even more.

Perhaps less visible to the public, but just as illustrative of DiSpirito's insistence on good customer service, are changes he is making in the city's permitting and development review processes.

DiSpirito heard lots of complaints from builders and developers soon after arriving in Dunedin. They told him the city had a well-deserved bad reputation when it came to processing development plans and permit applications.

He observed the process, asked lots of questions and came away convinced that the complainers had some valid points. Development plans languished, contractors' calls were not returned and procedures were awkward and inefficient. DiSpirito said the departments handling that work had both "structural and cultural" problems.

So late last year DiSpirito developed a long list of changes he wanted to make, with the goal of providing better customer service while still protecting the public's interests in the review of development plans and permits. One of those changes was to hire a "traffic cop" — his words — who would be a liaison between the applicant and city departments, making sure plans progressed through the system efficiently and that everyone was kept informed.

DiSpirito found that person already working for the city. Lael Giebel was working as a community services analyst. Her new title is development services project coordinator, a job she began in March, and her appointment already has won praise from people who deal with the city.

DiSpirito emphasizes that Giebel's job is not to be an advocate for developers or the city staff, but to independently monitor the review process and make sure everyone stays on task. She'll report directly to the assistant city manager, and she'll be a primary point of contact for applicants for permits and site plan reviews.

DiSpirito also tacked some additional duties onto Giebel's new assignment. He wants her to review the city's permit and development review documents and Web site postings to make them more user friendly. Giebel particularly wants to get rid of the government jargon that makes those materials almost incomprehensible to outsiders.

DiSpirito understands the difference between giving developers a free pass and giving them good customer service. The city is still free to say no to development plans that don't meet code or don't fit in the community, and it should. But in the future, applicants will get their answer more efficiently and courteously.

North Pinellas editorial: 04/03/08 [Last modified: Friday, April 4, 2008 7:16am]
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