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The Cold Filtered Ramblings of Gene Mueller

They Watch Us But Not Themselves

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     So much for "The Nanny State".

     Many bemoan the way government is poking around in our lives in what they see as a misguided, overwrought effort to make sure we don't run with scissors, swim after eating, or cross against traffic.

     If only they took the same approach when it comes to themselves.

     Monday's Journal/Sentinel reports that, when it comes to building inspections, there is an obvious double-standard: while all private commercial structures get a yearly once-over, the rules aren't nearly as stringent when it comes to government structures, at least when it comes to Milwaukee County.

     Inspections are all the rage after a section of the facade adorning the O'Donnell Park parking garage let go late last month, killing a Greenfield teenager.      Reports say workers didn't put the sections up according to plan, foregoing the four pre-fab holes in favor of two they drilled on their own. 

     Reporters Larry Sandler and Steve Schultze write, "By state law and city ordinance, Milwaukee city building inspectors examine every private-sector commercial and nonprofit building within the city limits every year, said Todd Weiler, spokesman for the city Department of Neighborhood Services.  But no consistent standard controls inspections of buildings owned by taxpayers. That leaves the local, state and federal governments to decide how - and if - to inspect their own structures. The result is a patchwork of inspection practices that vary from government to government, and often from agency to agency within individual governments."

     As far as Milwaukee County goes, it seems they HAD the right idea, ordering inspections on all of their buildings in the late 1990's before the paper says the funding was yanked from the last two budgets, leaving a third of it's structures unchecked.     County Exec Scott Walker wouldn't say if the cash will be restored in the next spending plan.  "This is the five-year plan that's taken 15 years to do," Weishan tells J/S Online, calling the program "mediocre at best." With cuts in other areas, it has been difficult winning support for building inspections, he said.

     Scroll to the bottom of the story and you'll find the most troubling lines:  Dan Thompson, executive director of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, said building inspection is a consumer protection function that has evolved in reaction to problems.  "If you go through the building and fire codes, almost every line was passed after something bad happened," Thompson said.  The O'Donnell Park tragedy could be that kind of turning point, Thompson said.

     You would like to think that government would be a little more pro-active than that.     Instead of waiting for "something bad", you would like to assume that steps would be taken to avoid potential tragedy ahead of time.     If nothing else good comes from what happened at O'Donnell Park, perhaps the folks who are supposed to keep us safe will be as adamant when it comes to inspecting their own structures as they are with private commercial property     

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