Inspection reports for Knox building permits nowhere to be found

Enterprise file photo — Marcello Iaia
Records were available in 2014 when Kenneth White, age 5, was murdered in his Knox home. The Enterprise submitted a Freedom of Information Law request to the town's building department to find out about violations in the trailer. At that time, Dan Sherman was Knox's assistant building inspector and often filled in for building inspector Robert Delaney who was battling cancer.

KNOX — An inquiry into the town of Knox’s building inspector, Dan Sherman, has revealed missing records of building inspection reports, despite permits issued.

Sherman has not returned calls seeking comment.

Sherman is also employed full-time as the Senior Building Inspector for the city of Albany. An audit conducted by city’s Office of Audit Control shows that Sherman earned $65,166 in overtime on a base salary of $48,486 in 2016, and has continued to earn more in overtime than his base salary in 2017.

Sherman, a part-time Knox employee, has an annual salary of $9,522 for this year and last, which he is paid quarterly. The assistant building inspector, Richard Loucks, also part-time, is salaried at $4,096 for 2017. Loucks’s predecessor, Glenn Hebert, resigned this year, and was paid the same amount quarterly for 2016 and 2017. Hebert resigned this spring and was replaced by Loucks, despite some debate at a town board meeting over his credentials to serve.

The Knox Building Inspector’s Office is open on Thursdays from 5 to 7 p.m.

Leif Engstrom, chief auditor for the city of Albany, said he had submitted a Freedom of Information Law request to the town of Knox regarding the hours Sherman worked for the town, because it did not appear that the hours clocked in by Sherman for the city of Albany would allow him to carry out inspections in Knox.

The audit said the city’s building department explained that Sherman’s overtime work, which was more than other department employees’, was due to two factors: his willingness to take more on-call shifts and a staffing shortage that left Sherman one of two acting supervisors in 2016. The report found no record to refute these claims.

Because Sherman is paid a salary by the town and not required to document his hours, Engstrom submitted a FOIL request to Knox, asking for the time and date of Sherman’s inspections for the year of 2016; the town responded that there were no records of inspection reports.

“That really was the problem,” said Engstrom, of the lack of inspection reports.

Knox had records of building permits issued, said Engstrom, but no reports accompanying them.

Knox town Supervisor Vasilios Lefkaditis, who took office on Jan. 1, 2016, said that Engstrom made his FOIL request about three months ago, during the first quarter of 2017. The FOIL request alerted Lefkaditis that there were no inspection records.

“We absolutely do the required inspection,” said Lefkaditis. “What it revealed was that our record-keeping was lacking.”

He added that he trusted that the building inspector and assistant building inspector were doing their jobs.

According to Lefkaditis, the town board went into executive session twice for a “personnel matter” — regarding Sherman’s employment — that led to a discussion of of the current policies in place. He said that he and town attorney John Dorfman, who he said called the executive session, are writing a draft of new policies and procedures to properly record inspections;  the policy will be voted on by the town board when completed.

Dorfman could not be reached for comment.

Lefkaditis declined to reveal what would be in the draft policy until it is presented before the town board in a public meeting, but said he expects it to be completed within the next couple of months, within the next quarter. The policy will then be put into place if approved by the town board.

Robert Freeman, chairman of the New York State Committee on Open Government stated that if “personnel,” which is not a legal reason to go into executive session, refers to employees, the board is allowed to go into an executive session. But if it refers to a discussion of policy, the board discussion should be public, not in closed session.

The FOIL request made by Engstrom was first appealed, said Lefkaditis, because the response from town Clerk Tara Murphy was interpreted as a denied request. The appeal was later retracted after the town’s response was changed to include a certification that there were no records of building inspections for the year of 2016.

According to Freeman, a certification is issued if the requester would like a more diligent search made to ensure that every effort has been made to find the requested information.

Lefkaditis said this was not the case, that the city of Albany merely wanted the word “certification” on file, and so Knox changed the wording of its response rather than issue a second search for the records.

Lefkaditis stressed that there are other records from building applications on file with the town — simply no records of inspections.

“It’s not like there’s nothing there,” said Lefkaditis. “What they asked for, they didn’t have.”

Lefkaditis stated that, while he is not sure if there are missing records of reports in previous years, the problem dates back to the previous administration. His long-time predecessor, Michael Hammond, had been supervisor in 2014 when the New York State Comptroller’s Office issued an audit stating that the town had not properly recorded time records for town employees.

In response to the audit, Hammond said this week, the town developed an employee handbook dictating how to report time worked. The building inspector and other part-time employees who worked on an as-needed basis recorded the time worked on a calendar following an order to report the time worked to count towards retirement.

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