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Chicago Building Inspectors

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I got an interesting letter from Stanley Kaderbek, the Chicago  Building Commissioner in response to my post about Chicago Building Inspectors.
 
Mr. Kaderbek seemed to think I was complaining because engineers weren't allowed to be building inspectors.  I wasn't really complaining about anything; I was just trying to understand some of what I was reading in the papers, because a lot of it really didn't seem to make sense.  I don't have an agenda - I don't have any projects in Chicago, don't want any projects in Chicago, and am not involved in the porch collapse litigation.
 
As I understand it there is a difference between Building Inspectors (existing buildings) and Construction Inspectors (new buildings.)  But in both cases the qualifications are:
 
"Five years of progressively responsible skilled building construction or building inspection experience, or completion of an approved building trade apprenticeship program and two years of experience, or graduation from an accredited college or university with a Bachelor's Degree in Architecture or construction related engineering, or an equivalent combination of training and experience."
 
Does this mean that someone with five years experience working as a carpenter is qualified to inspect high rise construction?   What is the definition of "progressively responsible"?
 
Also, as I understand it,  both types of inspectors,  regardless of their qualifications for getting the job,  are required to join the Carpenter's Union.   So,  you have members of the Carpenter's Union inspecting work work done by other members of the Carpenter's Union.  It doesn't really seem like this can be considered an independent inspection. 
 
Interestingly,  despite the huge amount of press attention that Chicago Building Inspectors have received since the porch collapse, this last point has not been mentioned.
 
The recent (last September) hirings were in the news quite a bit.  I am not sure I have all my facts rights, but I think I'm pretty close. 
 
There were, I believe, 50 lawsuits filed as the result of the porch collapse.  I am not sure if the city is named in all of them, but I know it is named in quite a few, and one of the key issues is the qualifications of the inspectors.  Given this situation, it would seem that the City would be pretty careful when screening any new hires.  So it is hard to understand how 4 out of the 16 inspectors hired last September were subsequently terminated for having falsified work histories. 
 
They included the 19 and 23-year-old sons of the Carpenter's local 13 secretary and president, and two other union members.  All of them apparently had union cards saying they had gone through the 4-year union apprentice program  (which they hadn't) and had two years additional years of construction experience (which they didn't.)
 
But apparently nobody in the City bothered to check this before they were hired.  It was a reporter for the Sun-Times (the Chicago equivalent of the Washington Times/ New York Post/ Boston Herald) that broke the story by asking how the 19-year old could have started his apprentice program when he was 13, since the apprentice program requires you to be working full time.
 
In other words, all four had fraudulent union cards.  And apparently several of the inspectors involved in the porch collapse also had fraudulent union cards.
 
This was taken, I believe, from an ABC 7 story on the litigation proceedings:
 
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Court depositions of five building inspectors or supervisors who were involved in those Wrightwood inspections reveal that at least four of them had little or no experience in the building or construction trades when they were hired in the 70's and 80's. They were supposed to have had a minimum of five years in the trades to get hired.
 
One of them -- Jettie Cooper -- said of his previous jobs that "None had to do with buildings or construction."   "What kind of training did you receive to be a building inspector?" Cooper is asked in the deposition. His answer, "On-the-job. We were just told how to do it by other inspectors, shown what they do."
 
Inspector Michael Brennan acknowledged that he had no experience in either building or construction, and no union apprentice classes when he was hired in 1982. His training involved reading the code book.   "And then they would send you out with somebody in the field for a week or two depending on how you picked up on the job."
 
The depositions also reveal that the inspectors are not familiar with live load limits of porches, nor limits on porch sizes, and -- in one case -- how porches are supposed to be properly attached to buildings.
 
And though the inspectors who passed judgment on this porch in the past had access to this manual on porch construction, the depositions suggest they didn't use it. When Brennan is asked what written materials he's referred to in making his inspections he answers, "Just used my common sense in looking at the building… I never used written materials."
 
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According to Mr. Kaderbek,  building inspectors are only supposed to be looking for obvious defects.   I am not sure what an "obvious defect" is - do the inspectors have a checklist for different types of buildings?   Common sense might tell you that not having a railing on a third story porch might be a problem - what else would it tell you?   
 
What kind of existing buildings are being inspected?  Was the building where the porch collapse inspected in order to get a rental license?
 
Some of the other building inspector news is too strange to even try to understand.  Last month, one inspector was arrested for impersonating a police officer in order to get  free car washes.  What does a car wash cost - $4?  That is worth committing a felony for?
 
Another inspector was placed on administrative leave after it was determined he had $6000 in parking tickets, despite the fact he lost his license 8 years ago.  How do you wrack up that much in parking tickets without a license?  Heck, how do you do it, even with a license? 
 
There was also the question of why he was allowed to work as a building inspector, without a driver's license, since that is one of the job requirements.  I think he may be the brother-in-law of a carpenter's union official.  Or that may be someone else who lost his driver's license but got to keep his job.  It is hard to keep who's what straight.
 

Gail Kelley