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Issues with Cape’s permitting process called ‘unacceptable’

Some Council members say EnerGov most important issue to address

By CHUCK BALLARO - | Jul 19, 2022

Saying the “problem is only growing by the day,” Mayor John Gunter and some members of Council are pushing hard to get the city of Cape Coral’s issues with its permitting process fixed.

“What we are doing is CLEARLY not working,” Gunter said in a July 13 email to City Manager Rob Hernandez. “The issues in our Permitting Department needs to be resolved as soon as possible. Our lack of service is having a financial impact on our businesses and residents throughout our city. This is the fourth communication today to discuss our lack of providing a reasonable expectation of service for our community. Council has reviewed the EnerGov updates for the last 60 days, but in my opinion this problem is only growing by the day. We keep hearing everyone talk about this problem, but we see very little actions to find a solution to our problem. We need to establish a temporary plan to address the many issues we are facing in our permitting department until we find a permanent solution. The service that we are presently providing for our community is completely unacceptable. In my opinion, this is the most important issue facing our city today that needs our utmost attention. As Leaders, we are held to a high standard to find solutions in a timely manner on issues facing our city, we are clearly failing in our responsibilities.

“I have added this topic to our next Council meeting and look forward to your clear direction on how we are going to mitigate this issue in the short term until we find a permanent solution…” Gunter wrote.

The city’s implementation of the EnerGov permitting system, and a staff presentation, is on the Council meeting agenda for Wednesday, the first meeting since Council went on summer hiatus after its last meeting on June 15.

Among the things the city is going to do in order to get a handle on things is to take a road trip to find out what another city of similar size did when it had its EnerGov problems.

Last week two city council members, Keith Long and Tom Hayden, said that EnerGov would be the most important issue the city would have to address during the second half of the year.

“…the customer service we’re providing our citizens and our contractors the past few months is unacceptable,” Long said.

“EnerGov has been a very difficult situation for us. We’re falling further behind on permits and we need to find a way to upgrade that system,” Hayden said.

Since then, much has been said on social media regarding the online permitting. One rumor circulated that EnerGov would have to be shut down again as permitting has again fallen way behind.

A city official said Tuesday he does not see that happening.

Another rumor said the city would be taking a trip to Detroit to learn how to better handle on things.

The second speculation is partly true. It isn’t Detroit, but Gunter said a trip would be made to Des Moines, Iowa, where a task force is expected to go next week.

“It’s a city of similar size as ours that experienced some of the same problems we have. They found some solutions and those problems were identical to ours,” Gunter said. “We thought it would be a great city to sit down with and learn from our mistakes.”

Gunter said there are still some serious issues with EnerGov, and that the third-party integrator can help identify the problems and also come up with solutions.

EnerGov launched in February. However, after a few weeks, there was a large backlog of building-related permits, forcing the city to shut the system down for nine days (from April 9 to 17) while staff worked to process the backlog of more than 5,000 permits.

The group assembled has discovered issues with workflow, configuration, reporting, performance and training, officials said.

The city also is again in the midst of a record building boom.

Councilmember Jennifer Nelson said staff has tried everything to make the system run smoother and continues to look at solutions.

“Nobody could foresee the issues we have. There are clearly glitches that IT couldn’t find. We’ve hired a consulting firm that worked with New York and Los Angeles when they transitioned. Our hope is we get the help we need to make the system more efficient,” Nelson said.

Bill Johnson Jr, executive director of the Cape Coral Construction Industry Association, said he would not comment until after hearing what council has to say during Wednesday’s meeting.

In other business, the city manager’s yearly evaluation process has been added to the Council agenda.

Other items of business include the city auditor’s office strategic and annual audit plans for the next fiscal year and ordinances so development-driven improvements within the rights-of-way requiring sidewalks, streetlights, etc., are constructed on state and county roadways in the same manner as on city roads, bringing consistency citywide.

Regular Council meetings begin at 4:30 p.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 1015 Cultural Park Blvd.

The meetings are open to the public.