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Mayor proposes merger.

Fold Buildings Dept. into Fire Dept.

Real estate officials said they aren't happy with the mayor's decision to move inspectors from the Buildings Department to the Fire Department, but want to work with the city to help improve the problems in the Buildings Department.

"We not sure that changing agencies will address the problem," said Louis Coletti, chairman of the Building Trades Employers' Association. "But this is a good first step in a very long journey."

Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani announced the reassignment. last week, along with five other recommendations for improving operations and stemming corruption in the buildings department.

"[Corruption] has been a perennial problem in New York City, but this is going to end," Giuliani said.

Before the announcement, Giuliani submited legislation to the City Council that, if passed, would give civilian members of the Fire Department the authority to conduct building inspections and enforce the building code by issuing violations when necessary.

Although legislation would be required to make the change on a long-term basis, the change could be made in the short-term by "detailing" some of the building department staff to the fire department to handle inspections. These personnel would still work for the buildings department but would be supervised by the fire department, Giuliani said.

"The Charter Revision Commission can also look at this issue," he said.

Other recommendations were to professionalize the Buildings Department through staff and organizational changes, streamline the plan examination and permit services within the department, review administration of licensing examinations for trades people, institute anticorruption measures within the department, and implement technological innovations to improve efficiency and customer service delivery throughout the department

Giuliani did not give specific details about how these suggestions would be implemented but said additional plans are in development stages, including hiring a consultant to review the existing building code and improving the plan examination process.

"These recommendations will help re-engineer the department into a state-of-the-art agency using 21st century technologies and processes for management," he said.

The recommendations were contained in a report issued by a task force formed in September 2000 after Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau brought indictments against several Buildings Department officials. The task force was led by Bart Schwartz, president of Decision Strategies/Fairfax International LLC and former head of the Criminal Division of the U.S. Attorney's Office.

"If the essential elements of the this place are implemented, it will result in a more honest agency, a better place to work for employees, and a department that better serves the citizens and businesses of this community," Schwartz said.

Since the formation of the task force -- and the recommendation about merging fuctions of the buildings and fire departments -- the real estate industry has been doing research of its own. In November 2000, the Associated Builders and Owners of Greater New York Inc., the Building Trades Employers' Association and the Real Estate Board of New York Inc. released a report called "Protecting Public Safety, Preserving Public Trust," which called for extensive reforms of the department.

Members of the industry have met with fire commissioner Thomas Von Essen to discuss the changes and other planned improvements for the buildings department.

"We're not happy but I think there's a commitment to address the problems," said

"We're still not happy with the reassignment, but I think there's a commitment to address the problem," said ABO executive director Nicholas LaPorte, Jr.

Schwartz said shortly after beginning research on the issue, the task force conclued that stemming corruption would first require addressing problems with the department's processes and management. To help improve operations, Giuliani has pledged $30 million to implement technology.

"There is a need for the increased use of technology to make sure the public has the opportunity to interface with the department, almost like a virtual department," he said.

Morgenthau said he hopes that improving the operations will eliminate the need for "expeditors," or individuals who were hired to help developers and others wade through the building approval process.

"There is so much red tape and duplication that people had to hire expeditors," Morgenthau said. "I hope this will lead to the elimination of expeditors."

Some changes have already been made at the department, such as standardizing and extending borough office hours, painting borough offices and installing bulletin boards and suggestion boxes, and modernizing and standardizing record rooms, Giuliani said.
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Title Annotation:Rudolph W. Giuliani, buildings department inspectors to move to the fire department
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 11, 2001
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