This past week the Front Royal Town Council took a large step forward and adopted the Virginia Maintenance Code. This will help hold bad landlords accountable and hopefully clean up and repair some eyesores located within the town.
However, there is now another obstacle that needs to be addressed. I questioned the Town of Front Royal regarding the agreement the Town and Warren County have in place regarding building inspections.
According to Town of Front Royal officials, the agreement was reached on February 8, 1983 –over 35 years ago. I could find no municipal code that addresses or explains this agreement and inquired of Jeremy Camp regarding the agreement. He informed me, via email, that the person who could track down this document was off work this week.
This agreement with the county and the Warren County Building Official who needs to be addressing issues and making our community’s housing, construction, rehabs, and commercial buildings safer is not doing his job. David Beahm has been in his permanent position for 14 years.
On May 23, 2018, I emailed and asked the following question:
“Can I please have a copy of the policies and procedures for the verification of contractor licenses and the issuance of permits? Also what is the official approved application form for obtaining a building permit?”
On May 23, 2018 Dan Whitten copied from David Beahm answered:
“As for the verification of a license, there is not a written policy in place, there has never been one. The procedure is to verify the license number is current with DPOR and that they carry the proper license level and classification to perform the work.
We verify that the taxes are paid on the property as we have been directed by the Board.
The business license is verified by the Commissioner of Revenue for being valid and current.
Here is the link for the form: https://www.warrencountyva.net/building-inspections-form
There was then a very brief interchange with a friend assisting me:
“I thought your guy Doug had this being addressed? Have we seen the engineering back yet for Cline to do the work?”
and Dan Whitten’s next email stated:
“I am not sure I understand your question. The County is not required by the Virginia Code or USBC to have policies in place.”
THAT STATEMENT IS ABSOLUTELY WRONG!!
The reason I asked for a copy of the permit application was due to a meeting of the Local Board of Building and Code Appeals, David Beahm, building official, stated the permit application was just a piece of paper, however that application is addressed in great detail in Virginia’s Construction Code and the Code of Virginia. David Beahm is guilty of a Class 3 Misdemeanor on every permit granted to an applying entity that did NOT have the proper licensure. (USBC 108.4, Code of Virginia Title 54.1. Professions and Occupations Chapter 11. Contractors § 54.1-1111)
I asked for the policy trying to see where the system failed, then learned we have no documented system.
Fast forward to August 28, 2018, I emailed a list of questions:
“I called the State Technical Review Board, they do not order nor perform inspections, that is up to the locality.
1.What are Warren County’s written standards of protocol regarding the basic inspections the building department performs?
A. Is there a check list or outlined expectations of each inspector and what they are to inspect?
Example: Inspector X gets assigned to inspect Footers. Inspector X knows that he/she must follow:
in order to properly perform his/her duties and complete inspection while also insuring all inspections are performed uniformly across the board.
The next day Inspector Y is assigned a footer inspection, he/she will follow the same standards of uniformity.
2. Does Warren County mandate any additional inspections as part of their USBC compliance during construction?
3. Once a certificate of occupancy is received and a safety complaint is filed with the building department, what policies and procedures are in place to assure complaint is addressed and followed up with uniform standards and USBC compliance?
4. I have read and familiarized myself with the Local Board of Building and Code Appeals bylaws of Warren County. What and where are the written policies and procedures for governing Warren County’s building department and official in these circumstances?
5. Where/what is the policy/procedure that establishes the hierarchy on the building department?
A. What/where is the policy/procedure that establishes how the deputy officials’ work is overseen?
B. Does the building official review the checklist for each inspection?
C. How does the building official insure uniformity and accuracy of inspections?
C. What/Where are the checks and balances for the system?”
The County tried to say these questions needed to be FOIA requested…NO. They attempt to silence citizens with this FOIA issue and redact everything except what the citizen sends to them, but that is another issue. I fought this and explained that surrounding counties such as Fauquier and more have such items readily available and transparent on their website.
Example I shared with them: http://www.fauquiercounty.gov/government/departments-a-g
Mr. Whitten said he would have an answer for me in 5 days and I told the county they better not be buying time to make up these policies up.
In 5 days I received this on September 5, 2018:
“The following are the replies to the questions in your email:
1. The standards for inspections are contained within the Uniform Statewide Building Code (USBC) found at: https://codes.iccsafe.org/premium/document/VRC2012
A. No checklists other than the USBC are in place.
2. Inspections required are the minimum ones required, unless it is determined that additional inspections are required.
3. All issues before and after a certificate of occupancy is issued are addressed as required by the USBC.
4. The items for governing the building inspections department are found in the USBC.
5. A chart is provided within the Warren County budget book which is available on the County website.
A. The deputy building official is a technical assistant as defined by the USBC.
B. No checklists are used.
C. Consistency is provided through training at state and local level.
D. The checks and balances are found in the USBC.”
To which I responded:
“So basically you are telling me there are no intra-department policies and procedures on the local level. No master book that Inspector A knows he must do the identical way as Inspector B.
Every municipality/locality in Virginia has different typography(topography) and needs. The USBC leaves a lot of gray area for the building officials and their departments to operate.
Without strict policies and procedures on the local level that provide for uniform locale inspections, there is no wonder the incident with my home happened.
Look at our surrounding counties, there is transparency in the building department spearheaded by a competent building official.
Warren County has FAILED and by the omission of facts and the reaction to cover your butts, you guys are making a bigger and bigger mess.
It is time to own the mistakes and put Warren County on the straight and narrow.
Shame on you all!! “
I then emailed again just to clarify on September 7, 2018:
I just want to make sure I am accurate and I understand your answer. Other than the official USBC, VUSBC documents and USBC, VUSBC policies, Warren County does not have any additional written policies/procedures that are Warren County/Town of Front Royal specific?
Thank you for the clarification”
Response on September 7, 2018
Those are the only policies applicable to the building department when inspections are performed.
In 14 years, the permanent building official has not written any Warren County/Front Royal locality- specific policies and procedures. In 14 years, a building department hierarchy has not been created.
How do we citizens know whom to contact? I am not searching the budget to do a build-your-own chart, we, as taxpayers should not have to do so.
Why has Mr. Beahm been allowed to hold his job for so long when he has not adequately carried out his duties to fully serve Warren County residents? His actions—and often, a lack of them, have been careless and reckless. Warren County’s building official has not performed his duties and by him not having policies and procedures in place, he is not upholding:
113.7.1 Third-party inspectors. Each building official charged with the enforcement of the USBC shall have a written policy establishing the minimum acceptable qualifications for third-party inspectors. The policy shall include the format and time frame required for submission of reports, any prequalification or preapproval requirements before conducting a third-party inspection and any other requirements and procedures established by the building official.
Folks, think about that power plant, the new bridges, the new schools, the factories, and every single structure that has been constructed in the last few years…Who inspected those and what criteria was used in doing so? We, as citizens, have no idea and there are no policies in place to tell us.
Warren County and Front Royal are in trouble. While individuals, a couple of elected representatives, and groups of citizens take steps and lobby for a better, safer community, other elected government officials and administrators are hampering their efforts. All emails I have shared were sent to Dan Whitten, the Board of Supervisors; Tony Carter, Archie Fox, Thomas Sayre, Linda Glavis, and Daniel Murray, as well as to Doug Stanley and David Beahm.
The powers that be are well aware of the condition Warren County’s building department is in. I have asked and demanded they do something and not one of them will.
When I tried post-fire to rebuild my home and life I never set out to have to be in the most challenging and stressful times of my life. In researching and asking questions, I have uncovered so many dirty deeds and unsavory ways of governing. There is no wonder our county is in the shape it is in.
Town of Front Royal, I applaud your step forward, but you just hit a brick wall. Will you Mayor Hollis Tharpe, Town Council members Chris Morrison, Eugene Tewalt, Jacob Meza, William Sealock, Gary Gillispie, John Connolly, and Town Manager Joe Waltz ask the necessary questions and help the Town of Front Royal and Warren County reach its potential?
Not only are the Warren County Building Official’s actions or lack of actions just horrible, they are also ILLEGAL!
Kristie Sours Atwood