Bill Desvari has been getting some serious headline time in the local paper. Having recently been put on administrative leave, he is being investigated for complaints charging dereliction of duty, intimidation, conflict of interest, and issuing improper building permits.
In the past, I took a number of jabs at Bill, largely due to the condition of a lot of houses in the city that were falling down, peeling paint, etc. I even started a regular feature, which will continue here later this year, called ‘Fame It – Shame It’, where I featured a number of houses that needed some attention, and some houses that deserved some applause. (I later ended up working with Bill on this feature, as an extra set of eyes, getting the city to act on a few houses, and even got one building razed.)
At the advice of a friend, he thought it would be a good idea if I sat down with Bill and had a one-on-one, and got his side of the story, get his point of view on the city situation. Considering the articles I’d written, I thought it was only fair that he get to meet with his accuser. We traded some e-mails, a few phone calls, and Bill and I met for coffee at Chello’s Thursday August, 16, 2007.
Bill was a very open person, very talkative, and a lot friendlier than the picture the Journal uses would indicate. He has a good sense of humor, cracking jokes occasionally, and was not offended by the articles that I had written, as it ‘comes with the job’. This is Part 1 of a 3-part series, as I taped the interview we had. (Getting it transcribed was time-consuming and I’m still working on the rest, so bear with me, please.)
All of the article below are comments from Bill, most are not direct quotes, as I’ve tried to put them together into something that flows well.
At the time of this interview, Bill told me there were 10,340 rental properties in the city of Lorain. Ordinance 126.97 requires housing inspections every 5 years. It’s never be enforced, and at a charge of $50 apiece, why wasn’t it happening, since it could bring in over half a million dollars? Most of the owners live outside the city, and really don’t make too much of an effort to keep up their properties. He went to then-Mayor Craig Foltin about this, and it took 18 months for anything to happen. (Craig’s being a part of the LELA have anything to do with this?-hh)
When the ball finally got rolling, with then-Council-at-Large Tony Krasienko watching close to make sure things ran correctly, two inspectors were able to do 1700 inspections in 2006. But it wasn’t as easy as that. One inspector had health problems, another substance problems. For the most part, in 2006, there was only one inspector working at any given time. And that was made more difficult by the fact that most of the owners were hiding and not responding to inquiries.
The Landlord’s Assoc was asked to provide addresses. The Law director told him they couldn’t fine the people, as it was an infringement of 1st amendment rights. Mark Provenza reviewed it for a long time, and Desvari told him the fine is already in Ord. 1501.99, anything in Chapter 15 can be fined $1000, that it’s been there since 1978. He was not blaming Mark, but it hadn’t been used, and now they’re able to take people to court.
Craig Miller called him and told him that Kent Sutton only wanted to do exterior inspections. It was a start, but the insides should be done. But due to the lack of inspectors, Miller said he should only do exteriors, and at 1.5 to 2 hrs per inspection, they would have to do approximately 250 per week to do what they were expected over the course of a year. Nothing had been done to enforce the ordinances or codes in 20-some years. The legal system used to take years, because the case would get bound up for 6mos to a year, and nothing would get enforced due to the time of year. Someone would get cited for high grass, and by the time it came to court it would be December or January, and the judge would tell the homeowner we’ll see when the snow melts.
The system is set up to fail, and it needs revamped, and he’s been asking for action on it. Ordinance 126.97 was illegal, it had been plagiarized from the International Property Maintenance Code, and the source wasn’t cited. Being plagiarized was a big part of its being illegal, and in the language, a Certificate of Occupancy is mentioned. A CO is given and not rescinded, and the code said it was only good for 5 years, thus creating an illegal document. Unless there was a catastrophe or it was burned, that affected more than half the property value, the CO could not be revoked or time-limited. The language needed changed, and the Renter’s Certificate needed inserted instead of the CO.
Running it through council took it a year and a half. It was put in committee, and the councilman that put it in committee was scared to act on it. Bill doesn’t care about politics, which side you’re on, R or D. He just cares about the code. Instead of changing the language of the code, they changed the frequency of the inspections. It started out as exterior inspections; Tony Krasienko wanted interior and exterior inspections, as did Bill, and Eddie Edwards wanted it done every 2 years, interior and exterior. Now it’s $50, every two years, but he still doesn’t have the manpower to do this. Asked for 8 more employees, with people calling off sick, and taking vacations, he was limited with what could be done. Secretaries went from four to two, and with vacation, he was down to one, and closing the office at lunch time and breaks.
At the time, Bill was a voting member of the International Co-council for New Building Codes, where he would review and approve upcoming new codes; Chairman of the Bylaws Committee for Stow Ohio Building officials Association, Chairman of the Code Interpretation Committee for Ohio Building Officials Association, and President of the Ohio Building Officials Association of Northeastern Ohio.
There were 223 cities involved in an ISO (International Organization for Standardization) audit, that deals with procedures and processes followed in business and manufacturing. Lorain was #220 on the list. Because he adopted the codes that he did, with the education that he pushes, the city came in at #5 on that list recently. Bookkeeping and record keeping have improved a lot.
He had four certifications when he hired in, and now has 13. The city used to pay out over $90,000 for plans exams per year for things that used to be farmed out to Vermilion, and he does it now. Craig Miller promised him a raise, it didn’t happen, but he wasn’t worried about it. He wanted to help the city. Bill is very thrilled with his family, very proud of his family and their accomplishments. Getting hired, he got a waiver from Craig Miller for his residence in Columbia Station (language in the job requirement dictated that the Chief Building Official reside in Lorain). His construction business was signed over to his son due to the requirement that the CBO not have any personal businesses. He didn’t agree with this, how the city could legislate his personal business, but he wasn’t going to make a big issue out of it.
Part II coming soon.