2012-06-21 / Views

our opinion

Steer inspection complaints away from ‘slippery slope’

You’d have to be callous not to feel sorry for Glen Dempsey while sitting through a barrage of complaints leveled last week at the county Construction Code Authority.

Contractors piled it on, at times, letting county commissioners — who are the bosses of code authority “building official” Dempsey — know the exact causes of their frustrations with the department.

Their biggest collective complaint was about poor service, although it was also clear that builders felt the department owed some cooperation in its enforcement of building codes. While cooperation can constitute a slippery slope when it comes to public safety and quality of work, they made valid points about delays in issuing permits and unanswered phone calls.

There is no excuse for poor service, but we wish criticism had stopped there. For instance, one commissioner railed on Mr. Dempsey because a project was held up over nails.

Well, nails do matter. While we don’t pretend to be an expert in the building trades, we do know when nails are too small they won’t hold, and galvanized nails are needed for outside projects. And so, yes, a case can be made for stopping work over nails — and other rules governing safety and quality.

Contractors also questioned a system of compensation that seems to heap financial benefits on inspectors who issue correction orders requiring repeat visits. The code authority works best when inspectors work with contractors to ensure fair solutions are quickly implemented — preferably right at the job site — to correct the occasional hiccup in any project.

Mr. Dempsey has been somewhat late in dealing with a groundswell of disgruntlement from folks who, ultimately, pay his salary. The Code Authority is designed to be self-sufficient, meaning that inspection fees cover the department’s costs.

After the collapse of housing and construction markets, the Code Authority laid off its full-time inspectors. On paper, the department switched to subcontractors to handle inspections — although often it is, indeed, the same persons enforcing building codes. They’re just not working by the hour.

We credit Mr. Dempsey for two changes he already put in place, creating a committee of contractors to make recommendations for the future and changing internal rules to allow work at a construction site to continue through minor correction orders.

Bringing dissension inside the ranks shows an openness to change; keeping projects up and running will help contractors work more efficiently.

Now if he can get phone calls answered ...

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