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County Executive Leopold Announce Ombudsman Plan
Annapolis (August 8, 2008) - County Executive John R. Leopold today announced that he is drafting legislation to be submitted to the County Council that would create an ombudsman for the Departments of Inspections and Permits and Planning and Zoning. The ombudsman would respond to inquiries, complaints or comments from permit applicants, permit holders, interested parties and citizens about matters relating to land use inspections and permits and the zoning process.
The position will also help ensure consistency of interpretation of zoning and permit laws, facilitate prompt processing of permit applications, promote communication between departments and members of the public, assist in educating citizens about the permit review and approval process. It should increase public satisfaction with the zoning and permit review process and help citizens understand zoning and permit laws, both within and outside the Critical Area. Additionally, it should help make the zoning and permit review process more accessible to citizens.
The ombudsman will be required to make annual reports to the County Executive, Chief Administrative Officer, and County Council with recommendations on policy reviews and changes that may be needed to improve efficiency in the delivery of services by the two departments.
"There is a need to help citizens understand the inspections and permitting procedures and requirements which I believe will be fulfilled with the appointment of an ombudsman," County Executive Leopold said. "This will help citizens navigate the shoals of bureaucracy within these critically important departments. Anne Arundel County citizens will be given assistance in understanding the laws and knowing their rights. I will craft legislation to be submitted to the County Council that will be a beacon for those who work with the County on inspections, permitting, and zoning issues and for the departments."
The County Executive continued, "We want to have a uniform process that abides by County law while providing accurate, prompt and courteous service to all citizens that do business with the Departments of Inspections and Permits and Planning and Zoning."
"It has been my goal since taking the position of Director of Inspections and Permits to focus more on customer relations. This position will be a welcome addition to the County. Anything that will assist citizens through the process has my full support," said Betty Dixon, Director, Inspections and Permits.
Director of the Office of Planning and Zoning Larry Tom said, "It has been one of my objectives to streamline our review processes and to make my staff more accessible to our various constituents. An ombudsman will provide assistance to citizens as they go through the planning and zoning process and wherever the two departments overlap. We strive to be a valued service and to enhance the cooperation between Inspections and Permits, Planning and Zoning, and all citizens that do business with the County in these regards."
Director of the Office of Personnel Andrea Fulton added, "This position will be merit and not result in the creation of a new position. We will reclassify an existing County position to meet this important need."
County Executive Leopold concluded, "I have reached out to all seven members of the County Council and have spoken directly with five. The response from all of those I have spoken with has been favorable."
This proposal will also implement a recommendation of the County Executive’s Transition Report that county government should "work with citizens to further their knowledge of the permit application process and leverage civic and community-based resources for this effort."
This effort is consistent with the creation of a hotline by County Executive Leopold to assist citizens when dealing with any County department. The hotline, (410) 222-2222, has ensured that callers receive prompt attention and assistance with County related issues.
The legislation is expected to be introduced next month. In the interim, those citizens wishing to register their concerns are urged to contact the 222 hotline.