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Leon County Upgrades Development Support and Environmental Management

Upgrade continues enhancements to service, efficiency, resources, and clarity

Background and Overview
The County Administrator continuously assesses and seeks opportunities to enhance the capacity of the organization to fulfill its responsibilities to its citizens, carry out the policies, priorities, and vision of the Board of County Commissioners, and to be in a continuous state of better meeting the needs of our customers. Key to Leon County’s organizational success to this end has been our commitment to be a listening and learning organization which never forgets that while we are vested with enormous and sometimes complex responsibilities, we are ultimately in the people business.

Among the most important and certainly most difficult functions of county government is administering a regulatory framework (permitting process) which reflects our local growth management policies and the statewide Florida building code. Few people would argue the importance of local growth management policies and processes necessary to: mitigate urban sprawl, protect important environmental features, preserve historic lands and buildings, promote affordable housing, require appropriate public infrastructure to support development, ensure public involvement and avoid the unfortunate and prevalent default development pattern of 21st century America which results in "the geography of nowhere". These issues go directly to the quality of life of our community. However, people differ on growth management policies and processes because they impact them very personally, whether they are sitting in traffic on a congested road or reacting to what they believe to be incompatible development in their neighborhood. Philosophically, individuals may believe that growth management policies and processes may be too restrictive or too permissive and at the same time their individual philosophies may not reconcile with their reactions when those policies or processes impact them personally.

Similarly members of our development industry are impacted personally by our growth management policies and processes. In addition to serving our community at large at DSEM, members of our development industry are important customers. Our men and women at DSEM are a bit like public safety officers who direct traffic, but at the intersection of public policy and private investment. Their jobs are difficult even when traffic is smooth and steady, but it becomes even more so when traffic gets busy. This happens in cycles which correspond to the economy and when more and new "drivers" are added to the roadway. At times like these we tend to hear more complaints about the development process being too complicated and/or time consuming.

As such, times like these provide enormous opportunities to make specific and systematic improvements to our processes to better serve our customers. That is precisely what we have done in the past, however, in times like these it appears that it is also easy to forget that. Instead unfortunately some people tend to revert to a distant notion of development process as one which is intentionally growth averse. In fact, during the last economic boom in the early 2000s, significant improvements were made to our development process to serve our local development industry that are found in few other places in the nation. Perhaps the most emblematic of those being the County and City creating a common permitting software system, consolidating GIS functions and later establishing countywide minimum environmental standards, and even building the Renaissance Center for no other purpose than to create a one-stop shop for all local planning, permitting and development services.

In response to the burst of the "housing bubble" and the economic downturn leading to the Great Recession which followed, the County took an assessment of the former department known as "Growth and Environmental Management" and was renamed to Development Support and Environmental Management to better reflect the County’s People Focused, Performance Driven culture shift and commitment to continuously improve and refine its services with an emphasis on value-added support in the form of staff expertise, technical resources, and customer support to assist the development community in realizing the highest quality development potential. The Great Recession severely impacted the development industry and consumer confidence as a whole, resulting in untold layoffs and the closure of many businesses. To support the local construction industry during this period of uncertainty, the County took strategic steps, including the use of cash reserves, to focus its resources on investing in the community by accelerating the five-year capital improvement program construction schedule to provide immediate employment opportunities through the construction of public infrastructure projects. While others waited due to the down economy, Leon County Government embarked on some of its most ambitious projects such as the Public Safety Complex, Cascades Park, and the construction and expansion of branch libraries. More than $100 million was invested back into the community through public infrastructure projects creating an estimated 985 jobs and providing an economic bridge for employment opportunities as the nation awaited the recovery of the market.

Throughout the economic recovery, the County continued to listen to our customers and made significant changes to the development review and approval process in order to meet their expectations. Most recently, DSEM has initiated significant process improvements, expanded services offered, launched new technology, and implemented enhancements to streamline development processes and better assist customers (discussed later in this item). However, staff has observed that many of the services offered are not being fully utilized as often as possible, particularly on the front end of the development process, and acknowledge that while many customers regularly express genuine satisfaction and appreciation of the professional level of service and assistance they receive, too many complaints and perceptions persist related to the time and complexity of the development approval process. This upgrade is the next iteration of service enhancement at DSEM which will promote existing services, process improvements, enhance the customer feedback process, offer unparalleled customer service through an "ombudsman" position and higher level professional services to functionally resolve foreseeable problems, offer greater clarity and certainty in our development process, and enhance intergovernmental coordination.

List of Upgrades
DSEM Customer Value Proposition
The new customer value proposition articulates our clear commitment to our customers. Additional and customized training services will be provided to DSEM employees to further reinforce this value proposition.

You are our customers. Whether you are a contractor or a conservationist, we believe that customer service and community stewardship are not mutually exclusive. We believe that by providing the highest quality of customer service, offering value-added professional guidance and technical resources, and ensuring efficiency and clarity at every stage of the development process, we facilitate the highest quality built and natural environment attainable for our community.

Chief Development Resources Officer
DSEM's extensive stakeholder outreach is chronicled in a previous section of this agenda item but further efforts are needed to alleviate ongoing negative perceptions, continue to build rapport with the development community, and enhance service levels to meet and exceed customer expectations. This upgrade builds upon the many programs offered through DSEM and acknowledges the need for greater facilitation to navigate the County's value-added service enhancements through the creation of a dedicated liaison specifically available to provide guidance and answer questions about the development review and approval process. The County has already implemented the Project Manager Program to ensure continuity during the development review and permitting process for the more complex projects. The program assists with the seamless facilitation of an integrated team approach to customer service, and provides ongoing reinforcement regarding DSEM's primary goal of presenting a coordinated and unified team approach to customer service delivery. The proposed Chief Development Resources Officer will be a senior planning and development professional with expertise in the development review and permitting process but will not be responsible for processing development plan concepts or associated permits. Instead, the Chief Development Resources Officer will offer the in-depth navigation and consultation-type services sought by DSEM customers that will help facilitate the highest quality project attainable for our community. This is a natural progression for the Project Manager Program and positive next step for DSEM by providing an additional level of assistance and mediation support for proposed development projects that require inter-departmental, inter-jurisdictional, or inter-agency coordination.

In addition to serving as a dedicated liaison for customer development needs, the Chief Development Resources Officer will continuously engage customers to identify process improvements with the goal of making the review process as straightforward and effortless as possible. To be successful, this position will have great autonomy to assess and identify process improvements and will be empowered to resolve issues on behalf of customers. Beyond face-to-face interactions with customers at DSEM, the Chief Development Resources Officer will proactively engage the development community and trade groups on behalf of the County and serve as the point person on intergovernmental coordination and improvements related to development services. This new position will be located immediately adjacent to the welcome area at DSEM to supervise customer service matters and will be empowered to champion process improvements on behalf of customers. Further explanation of the duties and responsibilities of this new position are as follows:

  • Serve as an ombudsman and in-house consultant to customers through proactive assistance in navigating the development review and building permitting processes.
  • A dedicated liaison empowered to resolve customer service issues, work with staff to proactively identify project solutions, and make presentations to local trade groups, associations, and community organizations.
  • Continuous evaluation of customer experience and opportunities for process improvements including policy modifications, land development regulation changes, utilization of new technologies, and enhanced customer interaction.
  • Greater customer relations care including face-to-face interactions and follow up phone calls to ensure that customer expectations are being met.
  • Coordinate and reinforce customer service training and values throughout DSEM.
  • Staffing the restructured Advisory Committee for Quality Growth, subject to Board approval, currently known as the DSEM User Group (described in more detail in #4).
  • Participation in the TBA’s Annual North Florida Home Show and coordination with TBA in advance of their Annual Parade of Homes to ensure that all of their permits have been issued in a timely manner in order to present their new inventory.
  • Host open house events at DSEM for industry professionals.
  • Manage, update, and make improvements to the DSEM website to ensure that it is user-friendly and details all of the available value-added services.
  • Regular submission of brief Did-You-Know summaries of County development services and market trends for industry electronic newsletters.

The County Administrator has identified an ideal internal candidate, Barry Wilcox, to serve in this role and lead the relaunch at DSEM. Mr. Wilcox presently serves as the Comprehensive Plan and Urban Design Manager for the joint Planning Department and holds a master's degree in Urban and Regional Planning. Already familiar with the County’s development approval process and many of the area stakeholders, Mr. Wilcox also brings nine years of private sector experience to the position in addition to professional certifications from the American Institute of Certified Planners and the U.S. Green Building Council. Prior to joining the Planning Department, Mr. Wilcox served as a Senior Project Manager and Director of Planning for two of the top multi-disciplinary development consulting firms in Central Florida. Respected by his professional peers, Mr. Wilcox serves on the executive committee of the Florida Chapter of the American Planning Association (APA Florida) and is the current Chairman of the Capital Area Section of APA Florida. His expertise, genial personality, communication style, and ability to relate to customer perspectives given his private sector experience, fully aligns with the customer value proposition and will result in a successful upgrade at DSEM.

Customer Experience Liaison
DSEM receives a significant amount of phone calls and walk-in traffic on matters each day relating to development review and environmental permitting, official records, building plans review, etc. Currently, one person is stationed at the front desk to greet customers and serve as the primary receptionist for incoming phone calls (secondary and tertiary staff are utilized on a daily basis for phone and customer support). To better serve incoming customers, the primary call-taker will be moved to the back office area. This will lessen the call volume for the secondary and tertiary receptionists while also providing a dedicated person in the welcome area to assist customers face-to-face. The newly titled Customer Experience Liaison will be the first point of contact for an arriving customer at DSEM, entrusted to actively and immediately engage the customer in support of their efforts.

In order to successfully assist a novice seeking their first permit or an experienced developer with detailed site plans, the Customer Experience Liaison must be well versed in the County's development processes and demonstrate the County’s core values relating to customer service. This position can be achieved through a realignment of existing personnel at DSEM. To serve in this important new role the County Administrator has selected Pam Scott, Sr. Administrative Associate under the DSEM Director, with 15 years of outstanding service to Leon County Government. Ms. Scott’s friendly demeanor, professionalism, along with her high level understanding of the development process and familiarity with staff will be able to marshal the necessary resources to facilitate the desired customer-centric environment at DSEM.

DSEM Office and Welcome Area
Based on input through the County LEADS process and members of the Tallahassee Builders Association, the DSEM suite at the Renaissance Center has recently been renovated to reflect a more professional, welcoming, and customer-oriented support area. Attachment #1 provides a few illustrations of the welcome area prior to any renovations. Although the recent renovations at DSEM offer a refreshing physical space and future improvements are planned for the adjacent records room, staff identified several opportunities to further convey the County's commitment to customer service, efficiency, clarity, and providing technical resources throughout the development process. Attachment #2 offers conceptual renderings to aesthetically showcase the array of County services specifically designed to provide value-added support for development activity and reinforce the County's vision, mission, and core practices. Additional enhancements displayed in the conceptual renderings include:

  • Signage to better welcome customers, reinforce the emphasis on customer service, and encourage feedback to thereby enhance the customer experience.
  • A television monitor to display service information, tutorials, testimonials and infographics relevant to the development industry including market trend data compiled by DSEM and the Office of Economic Vitality. For example, many customers are unaware that DSEM's webpage includes average timelines based on the permit type, an uncommon practice among local government permitting agencies.

Advisory Committee for Quality Growth
To better reflect the need for a broader and continual examination of the development approval process, this upgrade includes a complete overhaul and restructuring of the County's 14-member DSEM Citizen User Group including the renaming of this volunteer body as the Advisory Committee for Quality Growth.

The Advisory Committee for Quality Growth will serve as a standing committee made up of development industry professionals and community stakeholders to provide continuous feedback and guidance to DSEM on process improvements, service enhancements, and regulatory policies which support the highest quality growth and development attainable for our community. The responsibilities of this advisory committee will place a greater emphasis on proactive input and feedback for all development review and approval matters. Each member will be appointed by the full Board through a nomination process involving several stakeholder organizations that will continue to impose certain eligibility criteria for the now 15-member advisory committee.

The Advisory Committee for Quality Growth would be staffed by the new Chief Development Resources Officer and immediately charged with providing continuous feedback and input on the overall customer experience at DSEM including proposed process improvements, customer service and desired regulatory enhancements.

Public Information Roll Out
As part of the DSEM upgrade, Community and Media Relations will conduct an extensive public information campaign to educate and engage businesses, citizens, community partners, and local media. The campaign will describe why and how the upgrades improve customer service, efficiency, clarity, and resources. If approved by the Board, Community and Media Relations will execute the following communications plan:

  • Immediately issue a County news release describing the upgrade to citizens, businesses, and media.
  • Submit a My View to the Tallahassee Democrat.
  • Coordinate with partners to include DSEM upgrade information in community partner newsletters including, but not limited to, various homeowners associations, Council of Neighborhood Associations, business partners and associations, Office of Economic Vitality, as well as the Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce.
  • Schedule an open house to showcase not only the physical features and updates in the DSEM lobby, but also to introduce citizens and business partners to the upgrade service delivery and staff who will help them at all phases of a project.
  • Participate in the Tallahassee Builders Association's 2017 Parade of Homes in early May.
  • Produce short video testimonials that serve to highlight DSEM resources and services, as well as the new upgraded service model; these videos would be featured on social media and the County's television station.
  • Use the May County Link advertisement in both the Tallahassee Democrat and the Capital Outlook to announce the DSEM upgrade, resources, and key information about the improvements.
  • Distribute printed material on the County's online printed portal and other services.
  • Produce and schedule radio spots to highlight the upgrade and inform citizens about online and in-person resources.
  • Create informational content for the County's Comcast and CenturyLink channels.
  • Create engaging social media content to highlight resources and service delivery.