Thursday, December 20, 2012

Uncertified Inspections and Reviews

The state agency which oversees code and inspection functions in Pennsylvania has issued a “formal warning” to the Pottstown Codes office for a number of violations, including allowing inspections to be conducted by personnel not certified to perform those inspections.

In a letter issued Oct. 2, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry informed the codes office manager, Maria E. Bleile, of the results of its complaint investigation.

The letter outlines eight complaints regarding inspections at both commercial and residential properties, ranging from Pottstown Memorial Hospital, to the Salvation Army to four residential properties.
In 2008, inspector Rick Stuber reviewed plans for the Hyperbaris Suite
at  Pottstown Memorial Medical Center without certification,
according to t
he Oct. 2 letter from Labor and Industry.

Issues ranged from inspectors conducting “plan reviews” and inspections without the proper certification; to no records of reviews or certain inspections being conducted at all; to missing dates in inspection reports.

In one problem, from Aug. 17, 2011, permits were issued for alterations for 413 Walnut St. “which did not involve structural changes or changes to the means of egress,” according to the letter, which then noted: “During the course of our investigation, we were unable to obtain a local ordinance requiring permits for this type of work.”

The incidences cited by Field Operations Manager Ron F. Englar, dated as far back as 2008.

“As the designated BCO for Pottstown Borough, your responsibilities include the management of building code enforcement activities, issuing of occupancy permits, retention of records, and the supervision of building inspectors or plan examiners,” Englar wrote to Bleile.

“This includes ensuring all individuals working under your supervision hold the proper certifications required to perform inspections or plan review for each discipline. Please consider this letter to be a formal warning that will be placed in your certification file,” Englar wrote.

A copy of the letter was forwarded to Pottstown Borough Council President Stephen Toroney.

Borough Manager Mark Flanders said he had already decided to have the borough’s engineering firm, Remington, Vernick and Beach, review operations in the codes department when he became aware of the letter.
Borouh Manager Mark Flanders

On Oct. 9, borough council voted to spend as much as $33,500 not in the 2012 budget to have the engineering firm conduct a top to bottom review of the codes offices, its operations and practices, and to make recommendations for improvement.

The firm will “bench mark the department and make recommendations for best management practices” that would be issued in a written report, Flanders told council in the Oct. 3 meeting.

That review is ongoing, and came in the wake of a Sept. 23 report in The Mercury revealing that the Montgomery County District Attorney’s office had opened a Grand Jury investigation into the codes office.

No results from that investigation have ever been reported out to the public.

Flanders told The Mercury on Dec. 18 that it is his understanding that many of the inspectors cited in the letter have or are close to obtaining many of the certifications that the letter indicated are lacking among the codes staff.

He also said he anticipates that many of the issues raised in the letter will be addressed in the review and recommendations Remington, Vernick and Beach will deliver.

In the meantime, Flanders said the advantage of having the firm on board is that many of their personnel carry those certifications, so if an inspection is needed prior to the borough code officers finishing their certification work, those at Remington, Vernick and Beach “are just a phone call away.”

Follow Evan Brandt on Twitter @PottstownNews


  1. Flanders said that RVB “are just a phone call away.”

    Is that answer suppose to be comforting to taxpayers? Excuse me but, In case nobody has noticed, (walk out your front door,look around), we are in the midst of a long-term, conspicuous melt-down of the Codes Department and the violations from Labor and Industry are serious.

    Many who work there were NEVER qualified to be doing what we pay them to do in the first place while others, allegedly, exhibit malleable ethics in public service.

    Yet, the best we get from the D.A. is, well, nothing and Flanders offers assurances that...

    he's depending on a company, (RV&B), whose employees are defending against a multi-million dollar federal lawsuit that resulted, in part, because of their lack of certification and refusal to accept responsibility for their role in the Norristown Rittenhouse Condo's fiasco?

    To be the borough manager, facing off against increasingly disgruntled taxpayers, and to come across with such banality is hollow and so very, very wrong. It’s called "reduction to absurd."

    Oh, and I want to walk up to the codes window - never again - to see a male employee rubbing the shoulders of his female co-worker. That's NOT what we pay them to do and, among other things, it is symptomatic of deficient management skills in that department.

    Thanks Evan for checking the pulse of the leadership for this blog post, it's clearly not the response I would have hoped for.

  2. When I bought my property, it never occurred to me that I was also buying into a community. I suppose I, naively, thought I was buying simply my parcel. As time went on, the homes beside me began to deteriorate. Over time, the deterioration began to invite litter unlike anything I had seen in years past – the rundown appearance of the rental units and trashy area began to invite tenants that are comfortable living in that type of environment. Due to this experience, it became evident to me that when I purchased real estate, I did, in fact, buy into the neighborhood and was therefore partly responsible for the image of my community.

    I became dissatisfied with my communities appearance and started my own community clean-up every weekend. It didn’t take long until I realized there was only so much control I had over the issues and would require additional support. I became proactive in alerting the Codes department to surrounding properties that were in disrepair.

    Image, with 45% rentals in an area, what kind of impact or influence that can have on a neighborhood.

    The responsibility for the community not only lies on the owner-occupant. Onus also lies on the investors, their tenants as well as local government; including Codes.

    I am seeing first-hand how a lack of effective code enforcement damages a community.

  3. I would like to write something of depth here, but my brain just keeps screaming, "This codes department is a joke, an embarrassment, and a disgrace."