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Brown wants new director of housing, inspections

A plan that Mayor Byron W. Brown's administration thinks will improve day-to-day oversight in the Inspections Division has been sent to Buffalo's control board.

The plan to hire a new director of housing and inspections has already won the backing of the president of the union that represents inspectors.

The Common Council approved the budget amendment last week. A city lawmaker who sat on a commission in 2007 that recommended "top-to-bottom" changes in the department thinks the move is a good one.

North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr. said a key finding of the study panel was that the Department of Economic Development, Permit and Inspections Services lacked midlevel management. He said the deficiency resulted in some decisions being delayed as underlings waited for answers from top administrators.

Brown's economic development chief said the new manager would work directly under Deputy Inspections Commissioner James Comerford.

"The individual would handle day-to-day operational issues, working directly with chiefs and inspectors," said Brian A. Reilly.

Comerford hasn't been shy in underscoring the need for more manpower. Last month, he lamented that his department is grappling with the largest number of problem properties in recent history. In the first half of the year, the Citizens Services Division received 9,900 property-related complaints. As of late August, Comerford said that 2,700 properties were in Housing Court for various code violations.

An outside consultant is looking at ways to make Permits and Inspections more efficient, including a plan to better harness computer technology.

But oversight has long been a focus of criticism, Golombek said.

"Having a midlevel manager who can make some decisions would be very beneficial," he said.

The president of the union that speaks for inspectors thinks hiring a new director makes sense. Kevin Fitzgerald of Local 2651, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said he would prefer to see the job filled by a unionized worker as opposed to a mayoral appointee. But conceptually, Fitzgerald said the plan is good.

"You really need to have someone who knows what's going on with day-to-day operations," said Fitzgerald. "I don't think [Comerford] has the time for it."

While the job would pay $65,178 a year, the net impact on the department's budget would be about a quarter of that sum. That's because the plan would shift $50,000 from the salary of a job that is currently vacant. Before the change takes effect, the control board must authorize it. The oversight panel could discuss the issue when it meets Nov. 5.

While the mayor has yet to formally announce who would get the job, City Licenses Director Patrick Sole Jr. is viewed by many as a leading candidate. Sole is a former deputy city clerk who has worked in City Hall for 13 years.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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