by Janae Fear, staff writer
Owosso City Council voted to approve a contract with SAFEbuilt for building official services at the Monday, May 2 meeting. The $130,000 contract to be paid on an hourly basis is for 36 months and allows for either party to terminate the agreement with 30 days written notice. The business item was added to the agenda at the beginning of the meeting and was not included in the original agenda prepared and sent Thursday, April 28.
SAFEbuilt is a Colorado based company that provides full-service building department programs for more than 250 public communities throughout the country including over 40 in Michigan such as Harper Woods and Lincoln Park. The Director of State of Michigan Operations for SAFEbuilt is Shiawassee County resident Paul Brake who previously served as the Shiawassee County Coordinator (Administrator) from 1994 to 1998.
After two months of conflict with building inspector Keith Lussenden, which included multiple complaints from business and building owners, Lussenden offered his resignation on April 21. The city also employs Gary Palmer, on a part-time basis, who is under contract through May 5 but declined to extend his contract. With the current backlog of around 40 projects, it was critical for the city to get a new building official in quickly. “We have to take some action. We have to get things moving,” said Councilwoman Elaine Greenway
City Manager Don Crawford explained that the former building inspector, Chuck Rau, left the city in December to join SAFEbuilt which was when they were first made aware of the company. Once Lussenden put in his notice, the city began interviewing for a replacement. The favorite candidate was a Shiawassee County resident who was an employee of SAFEbuilt. Once it was discovered that the candidate could not move from working at SAFEbuilt to working for the city, due to a non-complete clause, the city approached SAFEbuilt to see if they could hire the candidate through them. Although this is not included in the contract, SAFEbuilt has assured city staff that this specific employee would be assigned to the city.
The decision was not unanimous as both Councilmen Burton Fox and Michael O’Leary voted no and voiced concerns. Fox questioned Crawford on whether other area building inspectors had been contacted such as Caledonia Townships, if the city had advertised the position, and if the city had contacted any of the applicants interviewed during the recent search which resulted in the hiring of Lussenden. Crawford responded that none of the applicants lived within 40 miles of the city. Fox also said, “I’m not happy having this dropped on me to make a decision tonight.”
Mayor Frederick stated, “I think we have to be practical. We have a backlog that needs urgent attention. We have the opportunity to contract and get a local individual in to meet the backlog…and we have a number of ways to move past the contract if we see fit…right now we have over 40 projects pending action from the city.” The next city council meeting will be held Monday, May 16 at 7:30 p.m. in the lower level of city hall.