Uncertified city inspectors receive extension

Three employees of the city’s Inspections and Code Department, including its director and assistant director, have not passed certifications originally required in their job descriptions, according to documents obtained by the Ledger-Enquirer.

When the previous one-year deadlines for the employees began passing without them being certified, City Manager Isaiah Hugley recently made what he called an “administrative decision” to extend the one-year deadline for the workers to obtain International Code Council (ICC) certification to two years.

Hugley said he originally changed only Director Greg Coates’ job description, but then changed all positions that require certification, so all department employees would be working under the same requirements, he said.

Had the terms of their job descriptions not been changed, all six would be currently unqualified for their positions, under the conditions in place when they were hired.

Hugley said the fact that so many employees were having trouble passing the certification tests in a year indicated to him that the employees needed more time.

“That indicated to me that there was a problem completing the ICC certification within one year, and the right thing to do would be to make a permanent change and give them two years to complete certification,” Hugley said. “What we are doing is legal and meets all requirements of the state as it relates to inspections of property during development and construction.”

Under the terms of their original job descriptions:

Director Greg Coates was required to pass certification as a Building Official, but has not.

Assistant Director Fred Cobb was required to pass certification as a Commercial Building Inspector and Residential Building Inspector, but has not.

Sign Inspector Remoh Thompson has also failed to pass ICC certification in their fields within a year of his employment.

Three other inspectors also had failed to be certified within their first year, but two of them, property maintenance inspector Monica Collins and mechanical inspector Robert Frullaney, have since passed certification. The third, electrical inspector Anthony Fussell, has left the department, according to Assistant Director Fred Cobb.

All three of the uncertified employees were hired more than a year ago, so would have been unqualified for their positions had the city not changed the job qualifications.

Under the new two-year deadline, Coates and Thompson have until later this week to meet the certification requirements.

Cobb was hired Jan. 28, 2013, so will be unqualified on that date next year should be not pass certification by then.

Hugley said anyone not holding the required certification by their two-year deadline, “will not be able to continue in that position because they failed to meet their job requirements.”

Columbus Councilor Gary Allen brought the situation to public attention at a recent council meeting.

“It’s a concern to me and several councilors expressed concern to me, during the meeting and afterward,” Allen said. “So I think it’s risen to a level where we hope the administration can take some steps to help the homeowners and citizens in the building community feel more comfortable with the city and this particular agency.”

Deputy City Attorney Lucy Sheftall looked into state requirements at Hugley’s request and agreed that the city’s practice is within state guidelines, as long as a certified employee signs off on the uncertified inspectors’ work.

Hugley and Deputy City Manager David Arrington, who oversees Inspections and Code, explained that, while uncertified inspectors are on construction sites inspecting work, a certified supervisor signs off on the work before it’s approved.

“If an inspector is not certified, that person goes through an internal process when they’re hired,” Hugley saidl. “They work under a coordinator, and that coordinator goes out with them and makes sure that they understand our standards and that they’re inspecting to our standards.”

Arrington said the process has changed to ensure that inspections are done properly.

“In the past the inspectors, once they were signed off by the coordinator, then they would go out and do the inspections, and if there was any kind of question or issue, then the coordinator would come and handle that,” Arrington said. “Now if they’re not licensed, they’re with the coordinator and the coordinator is the one who signs off on the inspection.”

Allen said he is still concerned about how the department is being operated and has asked Hugley to schedule a council work session so the councilors can learn more about it.

“I’m not aware of other professions where certifications are required to perform the duties, but yet they’re allowed two years to receive certification while they’re performing their duties,” Allen said.

Coates does hold ICC certification as a Building, Property Maintenance and Housing Rehabilitation Inspector and as a Plans Examiner. The other five hold no ICC certifications, according to city records.

Coates was out of his office late last week and could not be reached for comment.