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City, county diverge on permit training

City employees have not taken part in customer service training designed to streamline the permit process, according to some county officials.

While a number of county employees have already attended the training, the city has not participated, said Allen County Councilman Larry Brown, R-4th, who is also a member of the City-County Joint Permit Review Committee.

"In the beginning, we identified customer service as a goal and objective for the city-county permit process," Brown said Friday. "We had room for about 100 people (in the classes), but for whatever reason the city chose not to participate."

Fort Wayne and Allen County officials created the oversight committee in August, with each side agreeing to each spend about $700,000 on the process. The streamlining initiative includes improving online permitting, reducing redundant city and county laws, and hiring managers to make sure the improvements are made.

About $55,000 was set aside for customer service training, and between $10,000 and $15,000 has been spent so far, said County Councilman Roy Buskirk, R-at-large, who also chairs the committee.

"We urged all of the county departments to attend and informed the city's human resources department of the training, but never heard back," Buskirk said.

Nancy Townsend, manager of development services for the city, said the training did not address an obvious customer-service gap.

She said her department had benefited from hands-on training from local developers and other officials who offered real-life business models as a teaching tool. Townsend said that employees need to know the effects of what they do or don't do, and how the process is stymied when someone does not follow through.

"Employees need to know the impact of their decisions on the industry," Townsend said.

Mike Landram, CEO and president of the Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce, said he agreed with Townsend.

"This process is a change of culture for the community and an ongoing process," Landram said. "It has a substantial price tag and we need to explore how it ties into the technical aspects we are trying to accomplish. But if the human element does not change, we are right back to square one."

The committee agreed to look into offering online customer service training and seminars that would allow city and county employees to access them at their convenience.

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