Other inconvenient truth

Alex G. Tsakumis is using his opinion site to pummel a few people at Vancouver City Hall. He’s pounding the lightweights but also the presumed heavyweights. Truth is they have all been outclassed by a man modestly self-described as thin, quiet and easy to miss in a crowd.

The issues began by an examination of building inspection practices, schemes designed at the highest level of civic bureaucracy.  The City’s initial response was casually disingenuous. However, because Alex had evidence and pertinacity, the spontaneous reflex changed to a demanding defense of disinformation.  They were caught out when the fired Chief Electrician cagily interpreted his settlement agreement as preventing him from voicing opinions, but not facts. That left the politicians sputtering.

In my little experience dealing with civic authorities, an overreaching strategy has been clear. Municipal governments formerly employed inspectors who did something less common today. They actually inspected sites, first hand, and they had the skills to separate good work from bad. Homeowners depended on inspectors as guardians, ensuring that contractors were doing what was intended.

However, municipal lawyers started to worry about liability and exposure. They said, “Look, if the city inspects an installation and approves it, a court might hold that the homeowner has a right to assume the work meets codes and industry standards.”

A moment’s thought presents the quandary. City folks want the building done properly and large permit fees but they don’t want exposure when things go wrong, as in leaky condos. So they decided to remove themselves, as much as possible, from the inspection game. However, as Alex points out, inspections are important revenue centers, so they can’t simply withdraw.

The brilliant solution is to require significant projects to have independent professionals “sign-off” on any work subject to inspection. This means for example that engineers hired by the contractor must state that every bit of work was done as it should be. In fact, the city staff cares more about seeing the professional’s certificate of insurance than the construction site. If a building fails now, it is the engineer and other professionals who defend the lawsuits.

Beyond the untruthfulness of public officials and their lackeys, is an important issue of public safety and asset protection. Safety is self-evident. Examples:

NEWARK, April 12 – Engineers spent the day assessing and inspecting the damage at Mt. Vernon High School. An exterior wall of the auditorium collapsed on Monday, sending tons of bricks and cinder block crashing down in what the principal said sounded like a bomb. . .The auditorium is capable of holding hundreds of people. Luckily at the time of the collapse there were no students inside. (School not pictured.)

NEW YORK, April 13 (UPI) — One apartment building in New York’s Chinatown gutted by a deadly fire had more than two dozen open violations for hazardous conditions, officials said.

Believe me, I could put up countless examples of endangerment from faulty construction. But, asset protection is significant as well. This may not cause direct loss of life but families can be financially destroyed.  Example:

SEATTLE – A nine-year-old high-rise near downtown Seattle with hundreds of residents and dozens of retailers will soon be nothing but a hole in the city’s skyline. The 25-floor McGuire Apartment building at Second Avenue and Wall Street – built in 2001 – already has to come down because it soon will be declared unsafe for occupancy by the city.

I suspect that Ark Tsisseriev was discharged because he wanted his department to final inspect Olympic facilities and City Manager Penny Ballem simply wanted them released for occupancy. The risk to safety was less important to the bosses than the inconvenience of Olympic facilities delayed. The honorable engineer took his professional obligation seriously and would not yield. As happens in such situations, they pushed him aside and were forced to pay severance. With his long service and stellar reputation, the city was certain to lose a wrongful dismissal suit. Besides, they didn’t pay Tsisserev with their own money so it was painless to Ballem who apparently has her own contract with an unusually generous termination clause.

What is clear to me is that senior city officials, with complicity of Burgess Robertson, didn’t want the real story told but misjudged the power of the new media.  One journalist took the lead and refused to let the lies stand.

Alex, cast your eyes on Victoria and raise the heat on another set of prevaricating monsters.

Categories: Truthiness

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