Photo by Mark Metzger
Photo by Mark Metzger

Following the recommendation of a state hearing officer, the Metro Department of Health and Wellness has declined to immediately suspend the operating permit for the Economy Inn, giving it one more chance to pass a follow-up inspection within 10 days.

The recommendation from the officer with the state Health and Family Services Cabinet follows a hearing in early October in which the Economy Inn owners defended themselves from a failed inspection in August and another failed follow-up inspection the day before the hearing. The owners and their attorneys argued city inspectors wrote up the motel for trivial violations and treated it more aggressively than other hotels.

Instead of an immediate suspension, hearing officer Jessica Davenport recommended a follow-up inspection in 10 days to determine whether it would be suspended. Considering the Economy Inn received a score of 82 percent in their follow-up inspection on Aug. 5 — just four percent shy of a passing score — and the fact the inspection in 10 days will re-examine the same rooms and violations, the odds of the motel passing appears high.

Additionally, Davenport recommended the Economy Inn be placed indefinitely on a six-month inspection interval due to its repeated history of failing inspections. However, the city health department decided to expand on that recommendation, saying that a failure to pass any future regular inspection would cause them to seek revocation of their operating permit, instead of a suspension. An appeal of a notice to revoke is a more formal process than the motel’s two previous appeals of notices to suspend, resembling a court proceeding and providing no opportunity for an additional appeal following that decision.

“The Economy Inn has failed every regular annual inspection for the past ten years,” said Public Health and Wellness deputy director Matt Rhodes in a press release. “Compliance has only been gained through multiple follow-up inspections. Years of failing health inspection scores do not instill confidence that health and sanitation are major concerns for the Economy Inn ownership group.”

Despite that lack of confidence, Rhodes ceded that the motel owners have begun making repairs to their property, and said the fate of the business depends on the owners’ commitment to following through on their promises.

“On the other hand the Economy Inn ownership group has recently begun to make some repairs,” continued Rhodes. “The future of the Economy Inn is in the hands of its owners. If they can run a sanitary, safe facility, they will be allowed to continue to operate. If not, their permit will be revoked. While the enforcement process may sometimes seem to move slowly, we will relentlessly pursue it until the Economy Inn is either routinely found to be in compliance or until it no longer is permitted to operate.”

Economy Inn owner Tony Yaldo told Insider Louisville that he had not yet been informed of this decision by the city, but that he fully expects the motel will receive a score of 100 percent in 10 days and stay in business — just as they did in April following the last time the Economy Inn went through this process with state and city officials.

“They did the same thing last time, they gave us 30 days for a follow-up,” said Yaldo. “This is pretty much what we expected they would do… Just like last time when we got a 100, in 10 days we will get a 100 also.”

***** UPDATE 11:30 a.m. *****

In the recommendation report filed by Davenport, she addressed several of the criticisms aired by representatives of the Economy Inn about the city’s inspection process — including the inspection of occupied rooms and how many rooms in total can be inspected.

Davenport recommended that the health department continue investigating all complaints made about the motel — regardless of their source — and provide Economy Inn a copy of the complaint inspection findings. She also refuted the Economy Inn’s claim that no more than 10 percent of their rooms can be inspected, and said that this can include occupied rooms. She recommended that such occupied rooms should be inspected only with the permission of the occupant and if the number of unoccupied rooms available is less than 10 percent of the total room count and scattered throughout the premises.

Economy Inn's inspection history, from city health department report
Economy Inn’s inspection history, from city health department report

In the city response to the recommendation in their final action, Rhodes noted that the Economy Inn has failed its last 11 regular city inspections, adding that while they will primarily inspect unoccupied rooms, they still intend to inspect those that are occupied.

“LMPHW shall not, however, be restricted to a certain set of rooms,” wrote Rhodes. “Moreover, LMPHW will not be limited to inspecting the same rooms repeatedly simply because they are the only unoccupied rooms. The long term occupants at the Economy Inn could undermine the validity of the inspections process if LMPHW is limited to inspecting only unoccupied rooms that may equal 10% of the total rooms.”

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Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]