Dayton makes changes to focus on community engagement

The city of Dayton has merged a couple of departments and divisions and reestablished another to improve customer service and community engagement ― which was one of the focus areas of the police reform process.

The reorganization seeks to strengthen transparency, management of development activities, and enforcement of residential and commercial building and zoning codes, said Todd Kinskey, Dayton’s director of planning, neighborhoods and development.

“Hopefully this will streamline some things, break down silos,” Kinskey said. “Not that we don’t coordinate, but it’s certainly easier to coordinate when we’re all under the same umbrella.”

Dayton’s elected leaders approved earlier this month amending city codes to merge the departments of economic development and planning and community development.

The new department will have 91 employees and six divisions: planning, development, housing and inspections, community engagement, building services and mediation.

“Ultimately what we’re doing is taking all of the folks who do planning, development and economic development and rolling them into one large department,” Kinskey said.

The divisions of housing and zoning are being merged, he said, and one important goal is more robust enforcement of residential and commercial codes.

The city has struggled with commercial zoning enforcement, Kinsky said, but existing housing inspectors will be trained in this area, which hopefully will result in improved property conditions and more attractive commercial corridors.

The city also created a community engagement division, which reestablishes what was once called the division of citizen participation, Dayton City Manager Shelley Dickstein said.

The new division should improve communication with residents so the city can get ahead of problems, she said.

The city hasn’t had staff for community organizing around land use, liquor permits, safety planning, building neighborhood capacity and other priorities, Dickstein said.

The engagement division will have seven employees and one contractor, and Dickstein said the division manager is working on a strategic plan and already has started talking with neighborhood leaders.

Dickstein said the merger will enhance customer service by having a division dedicated to outreach, organizing and supporting the community.

“I am most excited about being able to build stronger connections with a larger component of our community,” she said.

The community engagement division will include the Welcome Dayton coordinator and an immigrant resource specialist.

Improving community engagement was one of the five focus areas of the Dayton police reform efforts. A reform committee issued 14 recommendations for improving engagement that call for new programs and commitments.

Kinskey said his department is considering creating a new online portal that allows residents to see updates on housing inspection activities. He said one of housing inspection’s biggest challenges is the misperception that inspectors aren’t taking action when neighbors make complaints.

Inspectors write letters and issue notices when they discover code violations, but Kinskey said many community members never see this and assume nothing has been done.

Dayton City Commissioner Chris Shaw said residents need a way to get progress updates about enforcement activities.

Dayton’s housing and zoning inspectors work hard and have carried a heavy burden in the past two decades, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said. But the city made significant budget cuts during difficult financial years after the economic downturn, she said.

She hopes the city commission will pay close attention to the inspectors’ workloads and consider increasing their budget to help with this important work.

“We have really tough decisions, but this is a place that has been challenged,” she said. “I appreciate your tireless staff, and the work they’ve done has been impressive.”

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