Members of the City Council unveiled a legislative package on Monday, designed to reform the restaurants inspection program and reduce the burden on business owners, who have long said the letter-grade inspection system unveiled in 2010 is just a revenue generating scheme.
The new plan, announced by Council Speaker Christine Quinn and a bevy of Council colleagues, seeks to reduce fines, streamline the process, create an office of the ombudsmen to field complaints, and provide more meaningful information to customers.
Here are the specific proposals:
- Across the board fine reductions;
- Fine waiver for restaurant owners/operators who contest an initial inspection’s findings at the Administrative Tribunal and ultimately receive an A;
- The opportunity for restaurant owners/operators to request a consultative and ungraded inspection for educational purposes;
- Establishment of an ombuds office to receive and address comments, complaints and compliments;
- Development of an inspection code of conduct pamphlet that inspectors will distribute to all restaurant owners/operators prior to the beginning of an initial inspection;
- Creation of an advisory board to ensure ongoing and systemic review of the restaurant inspection program;
- Increased and improved reporting of restaurant inspection data; and
- Relief from violations relating to the physical layout or structure of a restaurant
The letter grade system was introduced in 2010, and aimed to make it easier for the public to decide the cleanliness of restaurants. But restaurant owners said that it hurt their business, as a restaurant that poses no threat to the health or safety of their patrons might have a B or C grade due to some relatively minor and obscure regulation, while one with a more serious health threats did not necessarily rack up enough points to hurt their grade. They also said that inspectors were pressured to find minor violations, forcing restaurant owners to go to hearings and pay fines in order to increase their grades.
Since the letter grade system was implemented, the amount of money the city has collected has increased from approximately $30 million a year to $50 million.