I heard 980WCAP’s Tedy Panos interview both former Building Commissioner Robert Camacho and City Manager Bernie Lynch on the subject of the LHA debacle. I thought it was somewhat courageous of Mr. Camacho to come on the radio, but it was also an opportunity to clear the air and come to some sort of closure.
Mr. Camacho said that City Manager Lynch interfered with his job, engaged in political dalliances, pushed the line, took the route of least resistance, gave the City Council incorrect information, gave answers to technical questions he knows nothing about, looked the other way, and so on.
Obviously, we’re never going to process the entire story to everyone’s satisfaction, nor do we need to.
So how did the City Manager respond? “There are people who like the way business was done before.” “Public safety is paramount.” “My job is to direct the Building Commissioner to do his job.”
There’s this little matter of dust emanating from a building being renovated without a permit. The Sun cries “Asbestos” and “Lead Paint”! Really? There were rumors that asbestos was involved. Lead paint may have been involved. However, there’s no evidence that these materials were in the dust.
If I’m a building inspector and I happen upon a building that’s being renovated without a permit and has dust particles emanating out the door. I stop the job myself … call the police if necessary. It’s not that I suspect asbestos or lead paint. Dust control is a big part of any renovation job, as a matter of public safety. It gets in carpets, peoples clothes, hair, lungs, throats. And, if there was a concern about worker safety, why wasn’t OSHA called?
I don’t believe Mr. Camacho suspected asbestos or lead paint, although it would have been easy to investigate from the point he arrived if he had concerns of that sort. In fact, if he suspected such materials to be present, he would have directed that the building immediately be evacuated, sealed and material samples taken to be sent to the lab. Nothing like that happened.
Look, janitors use to go into boiler rooms and pick up pipe lagging material in such poor condition that it fell on the floor, put it in a garbage bag and toss it in the trash. They didn’t realize that just being in the room was hazardous because of asbestos fibers in the air. Pipefitters have died horrible deaths after years of breathing in the most deadly form of asbestos containing material.
Nothing remotely like that happened here. In fact, it wasn’t about asbestos or lead paint. It was about a long standing tradition that let the LHA perform renovations and repairs that require a building permit … without one.
City Manager Lynch is in the final stage of cleaning up the situation, while some people try to kick up a little dust.
The Building Department has a ways to go before it has my complete confidence. My sense is that a Building Commissioner is a czar who knows the building code and knows how to enforce it. No exceptions to the rule here. It’s in the book. Yes, interpretations are necessary every day. But no one is treated any differently than anyone else, because at the end of the day its Safety First and the Building Authority makes the call not the City Manager or the Assistant City Manager!
I’m comfortable that we’re heading in the right direction, at least at the moment. And I congratulate City Manager Lynch for taking a job over 5 years ago that required a major house cleaning, and getting it done. He’s done a great job in that respect. And in the process, he’s accomplished a great deal more. Hopefully, this progress will continue.
He also knows where his shortfalls are, and I think he’ll continue to hone his operation. Why? To make Councilor Rodney Elliot a believer for one thing. I think Councilor Elliot will place his confidence squarely with City Manager Lynch if he proves its deserved. In the meantime, the City Council is going to have to do a little soul searching of its own. I like our chances all around.
Editor’s Note: This post is first in a series that studies relationships involving the City Manager, the City Council, neighborhood groups, citizens of Lowell, stakeholders, Commissions & Boards, and the delegation to the state and federal government. How strong is ‘The Lowell Connection’?
George DeLuca produces ComeToLowell.com