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LETTER: Reader calls for better filtering of 'frivolous' bylaw complaints

'If the confidential complaint is not substantiated, perhaps the complainant should be put on notice that a service charge applies to them and not to all other taxpayers,' says business owner
2020-09-21 Barrie City Hall RB 2
Barrie City Hall. Raymond Bowe/BarrieToday

BarrieToday welcomes letters to the editor at [email protected]. Please include your daytime phone number and address (for verification of authorship, not publication). The following letter is in response to a story titled 'City creeping closer to beefing up bylaw enforcement department' published on Dec. 8. 

I am writing in response to your Dec. 8 report on the City of Barrie’s desire to increase bylaw enforcement staff. I would like to suggest that rather than increasing staff numbers that the city use existing staff more efficiently and implement more effective complaint filtering processes to reduce staff workload.
For 13 years, I have been operating a legal home-based business in a residential neighbourhood in southwest Barrie. Despite the fact that my business is legal, I have had repeated harassment from City of Barrie staff. They interrupt my work day to inform me of frivolous and unsubstantiated complaints from neighbours.
For example, this year alone I have had three such visits. The first was to inform me that my driveway was too wide. Despite the fact that I have not made any changes to the width of my driveway in the 13 years that I have owned my home the width of my driveway has suddenly become an issue to my neighbours. 
This frivolous complaint should have been completely ignored. But City of Barrie staff attended and used time paid for by Barrie residents to measure my driveway and inform me that I needed to make changes within 24 hours when, in fact, had the officer done five minutes of research while at his desk (which I did using free Google software) he would have discovered that the width of my driveway is within legal limits.
The second visit was to inquire about my registration as a massage therapist and to investigate a complaint made that my business was operating despite COVID-19 restrictions. This was not the first visit to inquire about my registration, but apparently my neighbours and city staff forgot the results of the previous visit.
Once again, rather than wasting time paid for by the hard-working citizens of Barrie to make a personal visit to my office, the officer could have spent less than five minutes online to check the validity of my registration and the very public notice regarding the legality of taking clients at the time.
In spite of my repeated requests that city staff phone or email me with inquiries, rather than interrupt my work day due to what they must realize are frivolous complaints made by very unhappy and extremely bored neighbours, I had another visit from City of Barrie staff this week. They interrupted a client’s treatment due to a complaint that I was operating a home-based business (what a surprise?) and that, due to my business, there were cars parked all over the street.
Had they called or emailed me I would have informed them that I park in my garage and request that my clients park in my driveway to avoid irritating my neighbours. The cars parked all over the street are actually due to neighbours with two-car driveways using their garages for storage and having three or four cars associated with their homes.
This is just one example of taxpayer dollars being wasted. Is this an individual at the city trying to make work to justify and increase in staff? Rather than increasing bylaw enforcement staff, I would suggest that complaints be screened and that existing staff use their time and city resources more efficiently by making phone calls rather than personal visits. 
I have pleaded with Mayor Jeff Lehman, Coun. Natalie Harris, chief administrative officer Michael Prowse and general manager Andrea Miller for help to end these ongoing harassment, bullying and empire-building tactics. I have asked them repeatedly to stop hiding behind staff and do what the taxpayers pay them to do – implement and manage efficient and effective processes.
I am sure you agree that every city service has a value. Perhaps it is time to let the users pay for the service. In this case, if the confidential complaint is not substantiated, perhaps the complainant should be put on notice that a service charge applies to them and not to all other taxpayers. I suspect that most, if not all, frivolous complaints will vanish, staff workload will lessen and in this way the process will be self-sustaining and far less mysterious or non-transparent.
Rhonda King