As an aide to the Baltimore County executive, James M. McKinney spent almost four years helping frustrated people work their way through the thicket of rules and regulations that is the Department of Permits and Licenses.
Mr. McKinney learned a lot working inside the government. But when his boss, Roger B. Hayden, lost his re-election bid last year and Mr. McKinney's own quest for a House of Delegates seat fell short, he found himself out on the street.
Now he has his own business -- one that puts his bureaucratic experience to use. For $25 an hour, he helps people get permits.
"The system is intimidating, to say the least. People on average will lose a day or two of work," he said of the pursuit for permits for such things as garages, sheds and other home improvements.
Mr. McKinney, a former electrician and tavern owner, calls his business EZ Permit. It's not entirely a new idea. Similar businesses deal with construction and home improvement companies that routinely need a lot of permits.
But Mr. McKinney appears to be the first targeting the permit needs of the average citizen.
"It's absolutely worth it," said Bob Romiti, one of Mr. McKinney's first customers -- the owner of Squire's Restaurant in the 6700 block of Holabird Ave. in Dundalk. "It's a wonderful service."
Mr. Romiti and his brother, Lorenzo, needed a permit to finish alterations to their restaurant. They got their first permit three years ago, but because of a dispute with the contractor, the work went unfinished and the original permit expired.
Bob Romiti went to Towson to obtain the permit, but was not familiar with the system, and what he would need. So he made several trips to Towson -- time he could have been using to attend to his business. And it was frustrating, he said.
"What happens is you have to learn the process, and that's costly," said Mr. Romiti, adding that he was "dreading" the prospect of another round of trips to Towson and was only too glad to pay someone else to deal with the bureaucracy for him.
Mr. McKinney said even with his experience, the permit process is not always easy. For the Squire's permit, he said he spent several days making telephone calls to find out everything that was needed before heading to Towson. He hoped by doing research over the phone, he could get the permit in one day.
It didn't turn out that way.
He needed to show county officials copies of the restaurant remodeling plans, which were supposed to still be on file in county records. But after he arrived and waited his turn in line, it turned out the plans were on microfilm and couldn't be located.
Mr. McKinney had to track down another set of the plans, and return to Towson another day. But he did get the permit, and the Romitis were pleased.
Rick Wisnom, a permits and licenses official, said Mr. McKinney gets no special treatment because of his former job, nor does he ask for any.
"It's a service that people like Jim, who have found out the inner workings, have decided to help other people get through the maze of bureaucracy," Mr. Wisnom said.