License renewals got a reprieve from the Ky Bd Of Home Inspectors (KBHI) Wednesday (3/31).
In essence, the policy gives KY inspectors “60 days after the Executive Order is lifted to submit information lacking” in a renewal application.
The decision suggested that inspectors go ahead and file their applications on time – that is, before the last day of their birth month – and then supplement it when they are able.
On March 6, Gov. Beshear declared a Covid-19 “state of emergency” by Executive Order. [To read the Order, click here. https://governor.ky.gov/attachments/20200306_Executive-Order_2020-215.pdf.] “Social distancing” and “stay healthy at home” become headlines we all know now.
PLI got the message, likely practically all responsible providers, and postponed March classes.
Removing any excuses, on March 12, the Governor closed practically all schools, public or private.
With about two left to get renewal applications done, March and April licensees were frozen out if they were counting on CE classes after that date. PLI immediately brought up the problem with the Board Administrator (who never returned the voice mails) and Board members (who did).
The conversations offered assurance that the Board would take care of the problem. There was a suggestion that board action would be posted on the KBHI website shortly.
It looked like the KBHI might act at its regular meeting, set for March 17. It was not to be. Covid-19 events were moving faster.
On March 13, the Governor told all boards and commissions to cancel in-person meetings and switch to teleconferencing. [For a play-by-play rundown of all the Governor’s actions, go to https://governor.ky.gov/covid-19-response.]
More dialog between PLI and the board followed. Finally, a posting appeared on the KBHI website in late March. It said “Renewal Notice: The Kentucky Board of Home Inspectors is working diligently to extend deadlines as much as possible. There are currently no updates on this specific situation regarding extensions, but during this time of uncertainty we appreciate your patience and cooperation with staff.”
It is not too much to say that sounded like “staff” blowing smoke up your shorts. “Working diligently” and “currently no updates” is bureaucratize for “don’t look at me.” We do not know a single KBHI member who talks like that.
On March 25, a new Executive Order said “only life-sustaining businesses may remain open.” [To read the Governor’s State of Emergency Order 2020-257 (March 28, 2020) click here. https://governor.ky.gov/attachments/20200325_Executive-Order_2020-257_Healthy-at-Home.pdf.]
It also said that “Any statutory deadlines that conflict with the suspension of in-person government services are hereby suspended during the pendency of this order.” (E.O. 2020-257 at I.7.c).
That closed the last doors to renewals. KSP background checks essentially became out of reach and the KSP in-person background check window was shuttered. Most insurance agencies went dark, with a few keeping shoestring offices. So no required background checks, and a long shot to get insurance certificates, on top of all schools being closed.
The heart of PLI’s email was that “The Board should immediately adopt policy providing that — based on the state shutdown for the pandemic and the declared state of emergency:
“(1) Renewal applications should be timely filed if at all possible before the last day of the licensees birth month, even if some required items are missing (such as, for examples only, KSP background checks, CE, and insurance);
“(2) A period of not less than 60 calendar days (from the date the Governor declares the state of emergency is ended and state government resumes normal operations, such as KSP background checks) will be allowed to supplement pending applications missing any such required items;
“(3) No penalty or sanction of any kind will apply to any timely filed license application missing required items so long as this policy is in effect;
“(4) Because online filing typically fails when there are missing required items, and filing in person essentially is not feasible, an application will be considered timely filed if it is postmarked on or before the last day of an inspector’s birth month or within 60 days after a licensee is emailed a copy of this policy statement, whichever is later, regardless of any missing items.
“(5) All licensees due for renewal during the state of emergency will remain active until not less than 60 days after the state of emergency is declared ended and state government resumes normal operations.
“(6) The Board shall give licensees the benefit of any doubt and shall presume good faith in its treatment of license applications throughout the state of emergency, absent any showing beyond a reasonable doubt to the contrary.
“I offer this bullet point draft policy because of the urgency of the situation and to help accomplish timely, firm, clear emergency guidance for March and April home inspector renewals, in particular, and licensees in general, as well as the general public. Who knows how long this virus will last?”
The same afternoon, the Board said it would hold a Special Meeting on March 31 at noon by Zoom Video “teleconference.”
This was a “first” for the KBHI. The Board was long overdue for a tele-meeting, so this was its shakedown cruise.
On March 30, Indiana issued a statewide “Stay at Home” Order. (Kentucky has not yet; it is one of 7 states without such a shutdown order.) Gov. Beshear signed the “Covid-19 Relief” bill just passed by the General Assembly. [Read it at https://apps.legislature.ky.gov/record/20rs/sb150.html.] Pres. Trump approved Kentucky’s Disaster Declaration, setting up Federal and FEMA emergency funding for the state and local governments.
On March 31, President Trump extended his social distancing “guidance” to April 30. There was every indication it would last longer. (There still is no national or Kentucky “Stay-at-Home order.” Think that was a long wait, after medical news reporter Helen Branswell first reported the coronavirus outbreak in China on New Year’s Eve? That’s “gubmint.” Florida’s first-term Republican Governor just issued its Stay-at-Home Order Wednesday, 3/31. [Curious? Read it here: https://venicechamber.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/20-91-document-10.pdf.] Then he complained that sick New Yorkers were fleeing the city to second homes in the Sunshine State.)
It all boiled down to this: Renewals were on ice. Turmoil was everywhere. The usual ramps to renewals were a mess. Everything was in suspended animation – including the KBHI – which still approves renewals at monthly meetings. (It been automated online for years in neighboring Tennessee and Indiana. Partly as a result, renewals cost $50 – yup, Fifty Dollars – in Indiana.)
That was the stage set when the KBHI’s first tele-meeting began on March 31. The Zoom Video videoconferencing software pretty worked – maybe better than the Board realized. There were 3-4 public “participants” signed on – but gagged. Somebody pushed the “host mute” button – so the public could be “seen but not heard.”
The meeting began on Zoom at noon. It ended at 1-05.
Because it was a “special” meeting, action was limited to the five items on the agenda. “Discussion Addressing COVID-19 and the industry” [sic] and “Extension of Renewal Deadlines” were the top two on the list.
Check out the “COVID-19 Guideline” article below for the flash discussion of “COVID-19 and the industry.” That conversation took about five minutes. There was no vote on actual guidelines.
“Extension of Renewal Guidelines” was the meat of the meeting.
Chair Mitch Buchanon moved that inspectors get “60 days after the Executive Order is lifted to submit information lacking [in renewal application] with no financial penalties of discipline or anything like that. After that, normal disciplinary things would be in place.”
(Frankly, exact wording of the motion was both spur-of-the-moment and hard to hear over the Zoom connection, which depended on speaking close to microphones. We’re sure that is real close but the exact words in the Board’s Minutes will be the final word. All PLI alums know that PLI keeps an archive of tapes of every KBHI meeting, including this one, that are available for use in court or when inspectors have to defend themselves, for example.)
That “close enough” wording of the decision also is very close to PLI’s top three points in its March 26 02:03 email to Board members above. We think you can take the last three points in those suggestions as well within the spirit of the Board’s action.
The Board posted a version of the meeting action, more like a meeting summary than strictly the motion itself as voted by the Board. The posted summary plainly was not in the wording of the motion, although the substance is just fine for home inspectors – and consistent with the discussion.
To start, the posted summary followed the Board’s motion saying “All home inspector licensee renewal deadlines have been extended” – adding “during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic.” Then it said, a little clumsily, that “The renewal requirements will be due no later than 60 days after the lifting of the State of Emergency” (instead of the Executive Order).
Then the Board posting added that “No licensee will be cancelled for non-renewal during this time.” That was not in the Board motion but useful, even though “cancelling” a license is not a power of the Board in the statute. In an email right after the 3/31 tele-meeting, PLI advised that — if it had been possible to be heard during the meeting — we would have urged the Board to clearly, expressly direct that no license be “expired” on the Board website, and all should be shown as “active,” until 60 days after the Executive Order emergency is declared over.
Next, the Board posting said (correctly this time) that “Sixty days after the order is lifted” – not “during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic” or “State of Emergency,” two phrases not in the Board’s motion – “those who have not turned in completed renewal applications that were originally due will be subject to the regular late renewal requirements.” That’s instead of the actual wording at the meeting, which said “After that [60 days], normal disciplinary things would be in place.” Frankly, though, it’s better for those to be under “regular late renewal requirements” – which means pay the Board a $250 late fee – that it would be for it to be under any “disciplinary” rules.
Finally, the Board’s posting said “Currently, home inspections can be completed with compliance of CDC requirements, including social distancing, as well as state requirements ordered by Governor Beshear.” That simply was not in the motion at the Board meeting, but it certainly is in line with the Governor’s Executive Orders. Still, it’s better to say out loud was that means for home inspectors, instead of making licensees root around in Executive Orders (that are no easy to find) and the CDC website and then make up their own mind. The Board is there for its expertise. Kicking those questions down to 500 home inspectors is a recipe for risk.
No. 1 – Home inspectors are not trapped in impossible license renewal requirements during the pandemic State of Emergency. This does not mean anyone should sluff off getting renewed.
Instead, file renewal applications on time — in the month or two before your birth month ends. That was not crystal clear in the Board’s wording, but we think it is fair to say it was part of the general idea, as it was part of PLI’s suggestions. Include a note that you will supplement the application as soon as you get anything needed that is missing. Be sure to keep a copy of what you send. And send it certified mail return receipt requested. The KBHI has a history of missing papers. If yours gets lots, you should be able to supply a copy along with proof it was sent.
With most state government employees out of the offices, and loaded with left field “emergency” problems, even the most meticulous, well-meaning staffer could drop a ball, or three. Give them a break – and a backup.
No. 2 – The KBHI listens. Sure, our private businesses and families probably would have acted much sooner. March 31 at 1 p.m. was, after all, about 3 hours from state offices closing, such as they are. But still, Board members saw a problem, listened to ideas for solving (not just from PLI), and took action. The Board did that in about two weeks – even though the Board was hamstrung, since it has no attorney who knows a home inspector from a remodeler (they’re both in the statute). Who expects the state to move at the speed of light? Remember, the goofy Board website still lists “Welford T. ‘Bud’ Wenk” as “Chairman” – even though he’s long gone and his term expired last December.
You’ve got to give the Board credit. For us, it’s always a pleasure to give credit where credit is due.
No. 3 – Count Our Blessings. Times like this are “the best of times and the worst of times,” as Dickens wrote. (“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, …” (You remember: A Tale of Two Cities, para. 1, Line, 1).
They wake us to the quiet contributions of everyone around us rowing their oars with little notice or thanks. When everything is going swimmingly, we focus on our work. We just expect all that quiet, essential stuff will get done. It’s easy to forget that no one really has to show up for work. But even with the peril of pandemic, there they are. Doug, the UPS guy at our office. Dalton, Debbie, Victoria, the cashiers at our grocery. Jimmy, who picked up the garbage Tuesday. Richard, who lugs our piles of mail to the office, for example.
And Nathan Burton, the Board’s newest Administrator, is in the kind of thankless position very few in the private business world would envy. But there he was, on duty in Frankfort, dutifully hooking up the Board’s first tele-meeting on Zoom, a technology that might have defeated the Board’s best intentions by itself. Overall, it went pretty well – well enough to give it another go — despite the screw-up with the “host mute” button cutting off public participation. State government is built to be slow and it is. Government bureaucrats are overflowing with caution. One of the basic attractions of state government is job security. State employees soon see that the odds of getting fired for slow walking or doing nothing are much safer than the odds of getting fired for doing something.
To be clear, we are not now talking above individual persons. We never do. We talk about function and policy. Like every home inspector, we ask “is it working?” or “is it broken.” It’s very easy, and sometimes it’s a bad habit of politicians, to take things personally, especially as they mature in public service. It’s almost always a bum steer (though we’d certainly admit even paranoids sometime have real enemies too). In fact, the research is surprisingly clear: There is no evidence that personality plays a causal role in policy-making or political positions.
So kudos to Nathan for rowing that oar. Count on our enthusiasm for public servants serving the public. The ones who recognize early that public constituencies and alliances are their best support and protection can look forward to long years of public service. The ones who think playing favorites and stealth is their best friend usually learn otherwise on the way out the door. Think of “beaver” Border buddying up with Board Chair Bud for drinks. Both gone. We were there before them and we’ll be there after them. Since we’ve been doing government work since 1984, it’s always been our pleasure to boost public servants serving the public.