Lack of engagement is crippling the International Code Council
ICC must rethink its voting process.
The International Code Council finally posted the results of the code-change hearing from last October in Long Beach, Calif.
If you download the results, you will find the vote totals listed for each code change. The most votes received for a change between voting at the code hearing in Long Beach and the online voting was 154.
Every other code change had less than 154 votes. So, with a huge membership, less than 154 members are deciding what belongs in the codes.
It always has been estimated ICC probably has in the neighborhood of 50,000 voting members. Again, that is just a guess that you will hear when talking to ICC members. Whether it is 10,000, 50,000 or 100,000 voting members, these recent totals have to be a complete disappointment.
The vote totals for the plumbing, mechanical, and fuel gas codes had even lower numbers. The lowest vote total for the Mechanical Code was 24 votes, for the Fuel Gas Code it was 26 and for the Plumbing Code it was 30. That’s pitiful!
One Plumbing Code change was listed as having all of eight votes at the hearing in Long Beach. Did anybody care? There are more people on the code committee than votes at the public hearing for that change.
By comparison, there were a number of vote totals that exceeded 100 for the plumbing, mechanical and fuel gas codes. That sounds like a lot compared to 24 votes, but again, there are thousands of members in the ICC.
The entire purpose of the ICC online voting was to not disenfranchise the membership. If the finances are not available to attend the code-change hearing, the online voting allows a member to watch the hearings and vote. The other interesting part of the online voting is that you can pick and choose which code change you want to vote on. You do not have to look at all the code changes.
At the same time, a lot of credit goes to ICC. The group could not have made it any easier to participate in the process. Their cdpaccess website works great.
So what happened?
It wasn’t too long ago that there were thousands of votes at the code-change hearings. I remember one vote total that was more than 1,700. So, how did that get reduced to 24? Some blame the recession. Some believe jurisdictions started to tighten their budgets and code-enforcement officials are no longer receiving funding to attend the code hearings. Of course, that led to the online voting.
Some think it is related to the retirement of many code officials and the lack of interest by the younger generation. That always annoys me. It is easy to throw darts at the younger generation. We old coots used to be the younger generation and some of us remember having the darts thrown at us. Don’t blame the generational differences.
As one inspector informed me, in the good ole days there was time to devote to the code. With budget cutbacks, we don’t have the time for anything. A day with 10 inspections has increased to a day with 30 inspections. Everyone knows you can’t do a thorough job with 30 inspections in a day.
Maybe that is it. Budget cutbacks have hurt the code-enforcement community. But I’m not sure. Maybe the entire process is broken. One cycle every three years makes it difficult to see any progress. If you lose a code change, you are done for three more years. If the code-change concept was good, you still are done for three years. Then three years later a new committee doesn’t like how you cleaned up the change and they turn it down again. Yet, they liked what you submitted three years ago.
Could this cycle of madness be frustrating to the ICC membership? Are they simply getting apathetic about the code-change cycles?
Sick and tired?
I often have heard it said the code-change process follows the politics in the United States. With it being an election year many of the polls are saying the American public is fed up with politicians. Are they also fed up with code changes and code committees?
I believe it is time for ICC to seriously look at going to a consensus process for the non-main codes. Clearly, everyone knows the main codes for ICC are the Building Code, Residential Code and Fire Code. The other codes, including plumbing, mechanical and fuel gas, support the main codes. Yes, they stand on their own, but they are niche codes. They easily can be developed through the consensus process.
When IAPMO switched to the consensus process for its codes, many of us had reservations. I was concerned but I was willing to give it a try. As it turns out, the consensus process is working well. Every code change gets a fairer review. There is adequate discussion and often modifications proposed to meet the proponent’s intent.
During the ICC process, it is wham, bam, thank-you ma’am, you are done testifying. Every change gets equal time. Yet some changes are a lot more detailed, requiring longer discussions.
The other beauty of the consensus process is that it eliminates the political appointees to the code committee. Nobody wants to admit there are political appointees to code committees, but everyone knows they exist. That’s not to say there are no political appointees on consensus committees; there are. However, the committees are larger and the political appointees have to become educated on the process real quick or they fade away. That’s another benefit to the consensus process.
It may be a stretch to get ICC to consider the consensus process, but they already are doing that with the green code and the accessibility standard. Why not the other niche codes?
Then again, what does ICC have to lose? It tried real hard with the online voting. It cannot consider it a success. Having less than 1% of your voting membership participating cannot be considered acceptable.
ICC needs to discuss other options to get better involvement in the code-development process.
This article was originally titled “ICC must rethink its voting process” in the April 2016 print edition of PM Engineer.