The issue has to do with a blog that I am reluctantly linking to called Reality No Hypocrisy. I read it and thought – that can’t be true, the blogger didn’t get the right info on the whole picture. So I went off on a little trek to the Health Department to see how the health inspection office works.
This was only my 2nd time ever visiting the office but the receptionist and sanitarian dude were very receptive and open. I asked about the restaurant inspections and was taken to a file space and shown where there is a “media tray” with the inspections of the last 2-3 weeks. I asked the representative who was showing me around about the inspections – he said he files the older ones every few weeks but because they have more than 250 inspections per month, the stack gets pretty big, pretty fast.
They are short-staffed with only 7 (or so) inspectors for the more than 1000+ places that need to be inspected annually. The goal is to inspect 4 times a year so… you do the math.
So, being all curious and with the belief that the bloggers can criticize if they choose to but should do it fairly (my opinion), I asked a few more questions. I really wanted to know how true it was that there was lack of transparency – I prefer to sit down and ask as opposed to assuming and armchair quarterbacking. Here are some of the responses I got but I paraphrased them:
1) Why did this guy say he was being charged $5 per restaurant inspection? City ordinance requires that we charge per page for requests of public records. We also are pulling away a worker from their job to look for information that is already filed away and we have to charge for the time it takes – the larger the request, the more the charges can add up. I don’t know what request was made but if it is in the media box, they can come and look at it for free all they want before it has to be filed.
2) What is up with the news not reporting on inspections anymore? KGNS used to faithfully come in to see the media box and report on restaurants that were lacking. It was actually a good service for the community because it teaches people about what we look for and keeps restaurants on alert in case they are not keeping up. KGNS has not come by in a long time but it is their option – we still keep the box available just in case any news media cares to report. (Maybe I should pick up the ‘eat, drink and be wary’ news bits… hmmm… or maybe not)
3) If these inspections are public record, why don’t we see them at restaurants? State law requires that restaurants have them posted in a conspicuous place. There is nothing local that says they should put it in a specific place, like the front door. Just like all public records, they are available but once they are filed, it takes work to pull out what is requested. If someone is curious about a particular restaurant, they are in their full right to ask the restaurant where they have the inspection posted.
4) So why is it so time consuming to get to these records? We have been bettering and bettering our systems. When we moved to the sequel software, it made some of our record keeping much faster. We recently received a grant that will also help us automate retrieval of the inspections. It is in the works but once it is online, you or anyone with internet access can log on and pull up a record on request for the last three years back. Because we are short-staffed, these new technologies will really help efficiency and there won’t be the need for a media box or an open records request.
5) And what do I need to sell a few plates from my home kitchen? Oh wait, that was a personal question since I have been considering selling the finest in burnt food a la fregada style :P. He did provide me a handout with some of the basic requirements and promised that my inspections would also be made 4 times a year and would be public so I better not totally burn whatever I serve.
So, in response to Mr. Reality Check – the reality is that there is accessibility within reasonable requests and paying for sometime is not unusual when you consider the time and effort it takes. Better yet, NO ESTES FREGANDO, I had no problems getting the information when I asked for help and I met them halfway – and I am a nobody, just another person who walked in off the street with no appointment or phone call ahead.