State report doesn't treat Mahoning County kindly
Mahoning County officials would be well advised to refrain from trying to sugarcoat the findings of a state review of the building inspection department. No one reading the report from Ohio Department of Building Standards can feel good about this vital governmental agency.
To suggest, as Don C. Hall, chief building official, and J. Kevin Sellards, the county's human resources director, do, that no wrongdoing was found is simply to ignore the extent of the department's failure.
We would argue that sloppy record-keeping and a lax approach to inspections is wrongdoing.
Likewise, issuing notices to contractors, ordering them to seek final inspections on their buildings, even though some of the buildings had been completed and occupied for two years is wrongdoing.
As the state's report points out, "To justify it [the after-the-fact issuance of adjudication notices] as a solution to make up for their own record-keeping failures only compounded the problem."
In other words, for Hall to argue that his department was "well within our legal rights" to issue notices for final inspection long after a project was completed reveals a troubling bureaucratic blindspot.
Rather than trying to justify the unjustifiable, as Hall did, or trying to parse the word wrongdoing, as Hall and Sellards did, the county should beg taxpayers' forgiveness for permitting such a shoddy operation to exist.
Incompetence: Last year, The Vindicator reported that as of mid-April at least 100 commercial structures, including schools, had not been approved for occupancy by the department. This revelation served only to confirm our belief that the building inspection department had collapsed under the weight of its own incompetence.
In September 2000, The Vindicator revealed that 80 percent of the homes constructed in 1999 did not have complete inspection records.
Here's what the state review had to say about the failure to inspect buildings in a timely fashion: "It was the building department's original procedures and their failure to inspect that encouraged the development of this problem."
Although county commissioners Edward Reese, Vicki Allen Sherlock and David Ludt were prodded by The Vindicator's investigative report to take a hard look at the building inspection department, we believe that Band-Aid solutions are inadequate.
For instance, expanded use of computerized systems for tracking individual projects through the permitting and construction process will help, but it won't deal with the culture of work that has existed -- or not existed -- in the department.
While we applaud Sellards for requesting the state review, which took a year to complete, it is necessary to note that his request was prompted by a letter he received from an inspection department secretary.
The secretary had not been with the department very long, yet she quickly recognized that things were not right. That's what troubles us.