News: A Sign of Customer Service

Going Beyond Expectations at the City of Miami Beach.

The temporary sign at city hall beckoned me to celebrate Customer Service Week. That was just what I intended to do as I approached the receptionist in the garage building to inquire about purchasing temporary signs for advertising real estate for rent or sale.

“May I have a permit application for a temporary real estate sign, please?”

“We do not have applications for that.”

“Well, how does one get a sign permit, then?”

“What kind of sign do you have?” she asked, opening a drawer. “Is it single family, residential?”

“No, I am interested in multifamily, commercial, industrial, and vacant land sign permits.”

She extracted what appeared to be a receipt form from her drawer, and prepared to write on it with her pen.

“It’s twenty-five dollars. I need the company name and the address of the sign, and then you take this to the cashier behind me.”

“I do not want to buy a sign permit. I am a reporter checking into the permit process so I can talk to the city manager about it. May I have one of the forms?”

“No.”

“Why? Do they have serial numbers?”

“Yes.”

“Then may I look at one?”

“No.”

“Please, could I just make a copy?” I took out my cell phone.

“No.”

“Okay, then, what information is on the form?” I took out my pencil to take notes.

“The address and the name, as I said, then you take it to the window and pay twenty-five dollars, and get a permit decal to put on the sign.”

“Does the applicant have to sign the form?”

“No.”

“Do you give applicants a copy of the ordinance handout with the form?” I pulled a handout from the rack behind me.

“No, if they ask for one, they can take one from there.”

“Thank you very much,” I said, tempted to add “for nothing.” But I do not like to be rude to clerks who are just doing their jobs pursuant to the mission statement that city officials display in their email signatures:

“We are committed to providing excellent public service and safety to all who live, work and play in our vibrant, tropical, historic community.”

Our new mayor, public relations businessman Philip Levine, spent over a million dollars of his own money to purchase his government office, which has little executive power, yet he vowed to run the city like a business with excellent customer service.

One service not being excellently provided is the enforcement of the city’s signage code, that is, not unless a civilian risks retaliation by filing a complaint, and even then enforcement appears to be selective. A stroll around South Beach reveals that the majority of real estate for rent or for sale signs are either not permitted or bear expired permit decals. This particular lack of excellence has made the Code Enforcement Division of the city’s Building Department the butt of jokes.

But some businesses are not laughing: they are madder than hell about the random and selective enforcement of all sorts of ordinances. Unpermitted signs are allegedly the superficial aspect of a degenerate feudal bureaucracy that no one, not even city commissioners and city managers, can do much about pending the next round of indictments.

Never mind the size, height, and setback requirements for signs if you happen to be an owner or realtor who wants to avoid at least the appearance of impropriety by getting a sign permit decal for your sign. Have someone go over to the garage and buy the permits and stick them on the signs, sight unseen, no affidavits as to propriety required.

If I had been a better investigative reporter, I would have had the clerk fill out the receipt for a sign to be placed at 1100 Washington Avenue. That evening, I would surreptitiously plant the sign at the address given. Chances are they would never find me for unlawfully erecting a sign on public property since I would have given a common name. Code Enforcement is blind unless someone complains, so how long would the sign remain before someone filed a complaint against the police department?

CELLS AVAILABLE Short or Long Term Raymond Martinez 305-673-7900.

About David Arthur Walters

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