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Restaurant inspections might go public

November 30, 2005|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The goal of restaurant inspections should be to help restaurants stay in compliance and open, not shut them down, one of the owners of the borough's oldest operating restaurants said Tuesday.

"Let's work together to make it better," said Randall E. Rotz, one of the owners of Schoenberger's Restaurant, said Tuesday.

To publish or not to publish the results of inspections of food service establishments was the subject of debate Monday night by the Chambersburg Borough Council.

The borough has approximately 150 restaurants and the goal beginning next year, when Commonwealth Code Inspection Services begins doing the inspections, is to have them all inspected annually, Assistant Borough Manager David Finch said. The borough does inspections now, and Finch said about 110 will have been inspected by the end of the year.

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The council will have to decide whether the results of the inspections should be released to the public and council members were divided over whether and how the information should be made available.

Finch said inspection results could be posted on the Internet for anyone to see, rather than have files in borough hall open for examination. He printed out examples of a similar system used in Denver.

"By posting it on the Internet, you're taking for granted there is universal access to the Internet," Borough Council President William McLaughlin said. He said having the results posted at the entrance to the restaurants could have a greater effect.

"If they've got to post this on the front door, they're going to work considerably harder to get more than a marginal score," McLaughlin said.

Borough attorney Thomas Finucane said, however, that posting inspection results could discourage people from patronizing Chambersburg restaurants, even if infractions are minor. Restaurants outside the borough are inspected by the state and can go years between inspections, he said.

Councilman Kenneth Gill suggested inspection notices might encourage people to dine in the borough because they would be assured of cleanliness. Other council members suggested simply posting a letter grade or "pass/fail" notices be posted at restaurants and other establishments that serve food.

"I lean toward staying with what we have," Councilman Robert Wareham said.

Finch said he is working to schedule a workshop in January with restaurateurs and representatives of Commonwealth Code Inspection Services to discuss the new inspection policy.

"I don't think anything should be posted unless there is a willful violation and they have been given a reasonable amount of time to comply," Rotz said.

"I'm all for inspections as long as they are handled fairly and even-handedly for all restaurants," said Rotz, whose restaurant, established in 1913, is the oldest in the borough.

"The good restaurant owners want to run first-class businesses and be in compliance," Rotz said. Independent operations, such as Schoenberger's, however, are at a disadvantage with chain restaurants that have newer buildings and the capital to make required changes to stay in compliance.

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