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Mar 31, 2010 11:57 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Building inspector training requirements go unmet

Mar 31, 2010 11:57 AM

D

epartment of State

records indicate that Southampton Village building inspectors have had even spottier compliance with state-mandated annual training requirements than was revealed last month when the issue arose at a Village Board meeting. And lax enforcement—and apparent confusion about who is responsible for enforcing the state regulations—allowed the non-compliance to continue unchecked for years.

The in-service training requirement, instituted in 1985, requires each building inspector in the state to complete a minimum of 24 hours of training each year in the form of approved courses, conferences or seminars. The training is important because it is intended to keep building inspectors up to date on ever evolving building codes, particularly in the areas of safety and energy efficiency, explained Gabe Roth, spokesperson for the State Department. This past winter, for example, carbon monoxide provisions were added to the code following state legislation mandating detectors for the colorless, odorless gas in residences, he noted.

All three of Southampton Village’s building inspectors have records of noncompliance, with senior inspector Jonathan Foster’s being the most glaring, according to documents provided by the state. He failed to meet the required number of training hours for 13 of the past 17 years. For eight of those years, most recently in 2005 and 2006, he logged zero hours of training. He met or exceeded the requirements only in 1993, 2002, 2004 and 2009.

During his last run of noncompliance, four years straight from 2005 through 2008, Mr. Foster signed 443 certificates of occupancy and 132 building permits in the village. In 2009, when he met the requirement, he signed only seven building permits and 40 certificates of occupancy.

Mr. Foster has repeatedly refused to be interviewed by The Press.

The training courses are designed by the State Department’s Division of Code Enforcement and Administration Educational Services Unit and held regularly throughout the year across the state. According to the State Department’s website, 24 hours of such training are required annually to maintain one’s New York State Code Enforcement Official Certification. However, in a twist befuddling many, the state does not enforce this requirement, leaving that responsibility up to individual municipalities. Further, Mr. Roth explained, building inspectors’ certifications are not revoked or invalidated upon failure to meet this requirement, despite the wording on the website.

“There’s no law on the books that allows for the Department of State to revoke code enforcement certification,” Mr. Roth said in a phone interview last week. Only under extenuating circumstances, such as imprisonment, might a certification be rendered invalid, he noted.

In order to assist local governments in keeping track of its building inspectors’ training, the state lists all municipal code enforcement personnel statewide who have maintained their training. The latest list available is for 2008. The state does not send notifications of non-compliance to municipalities.

Mr. Foster was hired by the village as a provisional building inspector in 1989 before earning a promotion to permanent building inspector in 1991, according to Village Administrator Stephen Funsch. State records show that he didn’t complete his basic training until 1992.

Prior to last year, inspectors had two years from their dates of appointment to complete the training program. Now they have one year.

Of the village’s two other building inspectors, Christopher Talbot, who completed his basic training in October 2003, has exceeded the minimum requirement every year except for 2005, when he did not participate in any training. He attributed that failure to not being aware that the requirement needed to be met annually.

“It gets a little hectic, especially during the 2000s when everyone was building like crazy,” Mr. Talbot said this week, adding that the Village Building Department is particularly busy dealing with the planning, zoning and architectural review boards.

Mr. Talbot was hired by the village as a building inspector in 2001 and completed his basic coursework in 2003. He said this week that he believes the state should do a better job of notifying municipalities and individuals of their training requirements. “That’s probably why they’re not disciplined. They don’t have a good process of keeping people informed,” he said of the state.

Tien Ho So, who was hired by the village as a plan examiner in 2001, completed his basic coursework in August 2006 and became a provisional building inspector in June 2007 and a permanent building inspector in October 2007. In 2007 and 2008, he failed to meet the 24-hour training standard. In 2009, he accumulated 27 hours.

Last month, Mr. So shrugged off his two years of non-compliance. Like Mr. Talbot, he said it had been a busy period for building inspectors in the village.

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Disgraceful, and now SHT wants to make them peace officers? The potential liability from this is staggering.
By nellie (451), sag harbor on Apr 1, 10 7:32 PM
Southampton Village has already attempted to get Peace Officer status for their 2 Village Fire Marshals. One of them has a 9mm Glock, Body Armor & handcuffs. He also wrote Governor Patterson a letter claiming he already has peace officer training and just need Paterson to sign the bill.
By PBA (14), Southampton on Apr 1, 10 10:22 PM
OMG, you are kidding, right?
By SusieD (109), Southampton on Apr 2, 10 9:29 AM
OMG, I agree with Nellie... Their is a first for everything I suppose.I better double check my thought process just to be on the safe side.
By 27dan (2307), south hampton on Apr 1, 10 10:33 PM
Maybe if they stopped getting paid till they got trained it would get done
By sjd (420), Westhampton Beach on Apr 2, 10 12:39 PM
The SH Town Building Inspectors are not slated to become Peace Officers...who spreads this garbage. Also, maybe the paper should check the education status of the Town's Building Insp. staff! Many have Bachelors degrees, and always friendly when I go there.
By kelbas (29), Southampton on Apr 2, 10 2:24 PM
the commenter is confusing Building Inspectors with Code Enforcement Officers, who are trying for Peace Officer status

not garbage, as I am sure they have some similar responsibilities, easy mistake to make
By quioguebirder (11), on Apr 2, 10 4:37 PM
You are correct. The building inspectors are not requesting peace officer status in SHT.
By nellie (451), sag harbor on Apr 2, 10 10:54 PM
Yes, just to clarify: This story focuses on Southampton Village building inspectors, not Southampton Town. And at the town level the proposal is actually to have code enforcement become peace officers.
By Joseph Shaw, Executive Editor (201), Hampton Bays on Apr 3, 10 10:36 AM
Thank you Joe for the clarification......but you do bring up the inspectors of the Towns as well in your story. Therefore, I restate my comment that potential liability created by this laxity for both the Village and the Towns is staggering.
By nellie (451), sag harbor on Apr 3, 10 8:02 PM
P.S.
NY State budget requirements go unmet. Now that's a story...

Albany's got a lot of nerve... When I need nutritional advice the first person I call is a Glutton! Get your house in order before you start telling others how to do their jobs. I work in the service industry and see this from large companies all the time. "Retraining", "Reevaluating" Training seminars galore. Your talking about people who've been doing their jobs for decades.Once you get your Drivers license you ...more
By Soundview (89), Hampton bays on Apr 2, 10 11:56 PM
So, now we know that Jon isn't the only East End Building inspector to have fallen behind on his CE requirements during the building boom. Can we please stop this ridiculous witch hunt & move on? The SH Village Building Inspectors don't deserve this. They are good men who do their job with the highest professionalism.

Is it coincidence that all of the Inspectors from smaller villages/Hamlets have fallen behind? Could it be that there really wasn't time for them to travel to take training? ...more
By Draggerman (759), Southampton on Apr 3, 10 7:38 AM
1 member liked this comment
The NYS Codes Division who is responsible for providing code training, has had it budget cut severely and currently has only 3 Building Code Instructors for the entire state. Training opportunities can be very spotty. Much of the training is provided by the Building Officials of Suffolk County.
The Town Building Inspectors have a fine record for completing the training and pride themselves on their professionalism and their role as "First Preventers". Currently they enforce the most progressive ...more
By graibierd (6), Southampton on Apr 3, 10 12:45 PM
2 members liked this comment
The Towns and Villages will be sucked into lawsuits if there is any question about the quality of an inspection made by an uncerified inspector. The cost of defending these suits will be paid by..guess who?.... we taxpayers.
By nellie (451), sag harbor on Apr 3, 10 8:10 PM
I believe that the purpose of the certification and renewal requirements is to make sure that the Building Inspectors (plus teachers, doctors, etc) are properly trained plus keep updated about new methods and/or code changes, etc. Let us not forget what can happen when proper codes are not instituted and/or followed!!! If taking a textbook home is all that was required, then NYS would list that as an option. But it is doesn't! If the Building Inspector doesn't follow the "rules", how can he expect ...more
By evergreen (19), Southampton on Apr 3, 10 11:23 PM
To repeat, under NYS law it appears that certification for building inspectors, once granted, is valid until repealed, and that NYS does not have in place much of a process for repealing such certifications, regardless of the lack of COE classes missed.

Moreover, it appears that NYS has not initiated ANY disciplinary process/hearings to repeal the certification of ANY building inspector mentioned in the article.

What part of "no NYS filed complaints, no hearing process" don't you ...more
By PBR (4850), Southampton on Apr 5, 10 6:39 PM
This is not a non-issue. In fact, don't be so sure that now that this has been brought to light that disciplinary actions aren't initiated against those who don't comply in the future. This is a public safety issue...like it or not. Many licensed/certified professionals in NYS require continuing education to stay licensed or certified. These inspectors should not get a pass. I do not want my tax money to pay for inspectors that are not cooperating with the rules of NYS or can burden my Town with ...more
By nellie (451), sag harbor on Apr 5, 10 7:46 PM
The Building Inspector may work closely with the builders and contractors, but his real job is to represent the Village and its residents and ensure that codes are followed and buildings are safe. Who pays him??? Sadly, Southampton Village did have a construction-related death last year!!! Could procedures have been changed sooner to prevent this? Who knows? But there is no excuse for not taking these classes. I checked the website--classes are held in Suffolk and Nassau Co. plus some are available ...more
By evergreen (19), Southampton on Apr 5, 10 9:19 PM
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