Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Unlettered Bureaucrats

So the NYC DOH is going ahead with yet another anti small business regulation-this time its a scarlet letter grade on city eateries' health inspection report. As the NY Times reports: "The New York City Board of Health voted Tuesday to rate cleanliness in the city’s more than 24,000 restaurants with publicly posted letter grades, adopting a controversial plan proposed 14 months ago by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene."

This is a continuation of a bad Bloomberg habit of bypassing the legislative process-one that was utilized to bad effect for the city's calorie posting regulation that has fallen flat upon review. But the DOH soldiers on, oblivious to what kind of negative impact their regulations might have on the city's struggling restaurants: "Many restaurateurs expressed their opposition to the plan at a public hearing last month, and the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce went so far as to call the grades “a scarlet letter that will keep people from eating out,” in the words of a spokesman, Geoff Kravitz. He claimed restaurants posting anything less than an A would be treated by the public like Hester Prynne at a public shaming."

As our good buddy Rob Bookman dramatizes: "After the vote, Robert Bookman, legislative counsel for the New York City chapters of the New York State Restaurant Association — the operators’ trade group — charged that “letter grading will be more misleading than helpful,” adding that “it will be unfair and a black eye to this industry in the restaurant capital of the word.”

And a legal challenge may be in the offing: "He said that a legal challenge to the board’s vote “is an option,” noting that the mandated posting against the wishes of a restaurant owner raised free-speech issues. Another challenge could be mounted, he said, on the question of whether such a regulation should be considered by the City Council rather than the Board of Health."

These kinds of regulations are designed to enhance the power and bureaucratic reach of the health agency-and will under gird a robust fine and violation system that will likely flourish even more now that there is this posting mechanism to further intimidate operators. And what the public misses in all of this mishogos is how arbitrary and punitive the entire regulatory structure really is.

One restaurateur makes this point: "After the board vote, Marc Murphy, chef and owner of Landmarc Restaurant in TriBeCa, said that “showing customers this arbitrary inspection grade doesn’t tell the public anything, because it is a snapshot in time.”

So what we have is what we have always had in the Bloomberg error-massive and intrusive over regulation compounded by a punitive taxation structure. And we have to wonder why unemployment in this city is at record high levels? The Bloombergistas, with no real sensitivity to what grows an economy, add to their own ignorance and incompetence by grafting on a meddlesome nanny philosophy that compounds their inabilities and exacerbates the troubles for all NYC businesses large and small.

What we really are in need of is some kind of similar grading system for our elected officials and their unappointed lackeys in the bureaucratic labyrinth. Imagine your health commissioner with a Scarlet F on his suit jacket-now that's a grading system we could approve of!