City housing agency stops labeling inspectors as 'leaders' and 'laggards'

Baltimore housing officials have ended a short-lived program to label property inspectors as being in the “shark tank” or “crab barrel” based partly on how many citations they issue to property owners.

Eric Booker, the assistant commissioner for code enforcement, announced the new ranking system to inspectors in an Aug. 29 email obtained by The Baltimore Sun.

“It will highlight the top inspectors, the ‘LEADERS’, by category as well as the bottom dwellers, the ‘LAGGARDS’,” Booker wrote. The top three who met or exceeded requirements earned a spot in the “shark tank,” while those falling short were relegated to the “crab barrel.”

Agency officials said Friday the labels went too far and would not be used in any new rankings beyond the one accompanying the Aug. 29 staff message. “The words mentioned were inappropriate — the whole crabs and laggards,” said spokeswoman Cheron Porter. She said Booker’s message was “rescinded and acknowledged as not being appropriate.”

But Porter did not disavow the “triple double” benchmarks set for each two-week period: a “minimum of 15 average inspections, 10 citations and 10 abatements” for inspectors of multi-family buildings, and a “minimum of 25 average inspections, 20 citations and 10 abatements” for all other inspectors.

“With the magnitude of work we have to do, with the resources we have, with the challenge of blighted properties, it only makes smart management to track how we’re doing,” Porter said.

The city has dozens of housing inspectors who annually respond to thousands of complaints for problems such as trash accumulation and uncut grass or weeds.

Asked if requiring a certain number of citations could lead inspectors to make questionable calls in order to meet a quota, Porter noted that citations were just one of three criteria. She said fixing a problem through abatement is the agency’s goal and a fair standard by which to judge inspectors.

As for the value of calling out “laggards” in front of their peers, Porter said “it might help us identify if someone would need more coaching, more training, more support.”

Booker distributed only one of the so-called productivity reports, ranking inspectors by name in each category and overall. Porter said she did not know if any similar reports will go out to the staff. If so, she said, they won’t use terms such as crabs and laggards.

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