PITTSFIELD -- With the economy still sputtering, regulation has become a hot topic in the business community.
Some believe that too much regulation stifles growth. Others believe that not enough regulation makes it too easy for businesses to cheat.
Pittsfield funeral director John Bresnahan has been in the middle of that debate for 10 years. He recently returned fulltime to his duties as funeral director of the Devanny-Condron Funeral Home following a decade working for the state Department of Professional Licensure.
The DPL, an agency within the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation, is responsible for 31 boards of registration, which license and regulate more than 370,000 individuals and businesses to practice some 50 trades and professions in Massachusetts.
But Bresnahan said the agency has fewer than 150 employees to monitor all of these operations, which include funeral homes, hair and nail salons, barber shops, and those responsible for drinking water and sanitation standards among others.
Given the gap between employees and licensees, the potential for malfeasance certainly exists. But in reality, the number of violations is actually quite small.
"You would have [annually] maybe 3,000 complaints," said Bresnahan, who retired from the DPL in August. "That gives you a pretty good [idea] that mostly everybody is behaving appropriately and delivering services professionally regardless of their profession. That's not even 10 percent, right?"
Bresnahan spent his first seven years at the DPL assigned to four different regulatory boards, and the final three as assistant chief of the agency's investigation unit.
As an investigator, Bresnahan said he was responsible for following up on complaints, and making sure that businesses under the DPL's purview adhere to rules of professional conduct. The investigators in the DPL gather the information, and the agency's board determines if enforcement is needed, he said.
"What I saw was the benefit of regulations because that's part and parcel of ensuring that people who have licenses perform professionally," Bresnahan said. "I don't really think that the regulations are onerous or mysterious. They're pretty clear. And, the consumer, in some instances, needs to be protected from those who choose to operate otherwise.
"I thought it was fascinating to become part of elevating the practice of how people do things," said Bresnahan, who joined the agency in 2003.
Making sure everyone stays on the straight and narrow is not an easy task considering the number of employees and the amount of licensees. Enforcing the standards is often a matter of "visibility," Bresnahan said, which can include unannounced compliance checks.
Making it seem as though a visit from the DPL is coming can often be as effective as an actual inspection, Bresnahan said.
"People who wouldn't ordinarily call you and say your coat is on fire would say, 'Hey, Bresnahan's around today,' " he said. "Word would travel fast, and that might result in some doors being locked up for the day."
Besides the enforcement piece, the DPL also acts as a consumer protection agency.
"I found that it was great that I was able to turn around and help people because the regulatory piece is not always punitive," Bresnahan said. "You should also be advocating for licensees, too. There were some instances where I found a complaint was not accurate. A person's reputation is at stake when you have a complaint filed against you. It was good to be able to get something resolved."
To reach Tony Dobrowolski: TDobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com or (413) 496-6224.