OB Building Inspector Turnover Raises Questions

THE OCEAN BEACH VILLAGE building inspec- tor who took over this summer has lacked New York State certification legally required to perform such duties since last year, the Fire Island News has learned.
The inspector, Theodore Minski, has been filling in on a part-time basis while the village, which has gone through at least six building inspectors in the past five years, searches for a full-time replacement. Compounding the questions regarding Minski’s status are allegations by some former Ocean Beach building inspectors who say the reason for the high turnover is the village’s inconsistent enforcement of zoning codes and interference with those who try to enforce the rules.
“What surprised me is how the village boards, committees and officials raised the level of dysfunction to an art form,” said ex-building inspector Peter Gelsomine, who quit in March after less than a year on the job. “Everyone seemed very casual with the dysfunction. I did not share in the complacency.”
Officers with both the Building Officials Association of Suffolk County and the Colorado-based International Association of Certified Home Inspectors characterized it as unusual for a village to go through so many building inspectors over so few years. For comparison, Saltaire Village Administrator Mario Posillico has been the building inspector in Fire Island’s only other village for about 20 years.
Minksi was named building inspector in August 2011, following the resignation of his predecessor, Gerard Driscoll, who served Ocean Beach in that role for about five years. Louis Santora replaced Minski a month before Superstorm Sandy hit in 2012, but left last year. The village temporarily hired Brookhaven-based L.K. McLean Associates to serve in the role before hiring Gelsomine, whose replacement, Thomas Whalen, turned down the job offer, which lead to Minski’s return.
“This was an unfortunate turn of events, but these things happen,” Deputy Mayor Matthew Blake, referring to Whalen, said at the June 11 village board meeting. “We’d like to see greater continuity off of the new full-time hire.”
When a resident asked Blake why Gelsomine’s replacement turned the job down, Blake said, “we can speculate,” but he didn’t.
Questionable Title: The New York State Department of State’s Division of Code Enforcement and Administration confirmed to the News that Minski was never certified as a building safety inspector, and his certification to work as a code enforcement officer lapsed last year.
Despite this, the title of “building inspector/code enforcement officer” is printed next to his name on village documents, including copies of a recent stop work order and building permit obtained by the News. His is the only name listed on the village website under the Building Department section with the title of “Manager & Code Enforcement Office.” In response to a request under the Freedom of Information Law seeking copies of the village’s payroll data, he was listed as earning $45 hourly last year in a document that also identified him as the building inspector.
“The Department’s Division of Building Standards and Codes contacted the Village and had a preliminary conversation,” the agency told the News when this reporter pointed out Minski’s title in Ocean Beach after the agency confirmed he “is not currently considered active” since he didn’t complete state-mandated training on the latest rules in 2015. “The Department of State has no further comment at this very early stage of its review of this matter.

“If the Department of State determines that a local government is not enforcing the uniform code in accordance with the minimum standards, the [department] is authorized to take a number of steps, including issuing an order directing the local government to enforce the code,” the agency said. It also said that it “expresses no opinion at this time on the question of whether the individual [and village] in question is in violation of the minimum standards.”
When asked if the village knew that Minski was uncertified, Ocean Beach Mayor James Mallott dodged the question.
“We are in the process of interviewing a building inspector,” he replied. When pressed, the mayor said the village will make sure Minski gets certified. When asked what impact that lack of certification may have on any paperwork Minski has filed, Mallot deferred to Village Attorney Ken Gray.
“The village has no comment on this topic,” Gray later replied to the same question.
None of the other four members of the board of trustees responded to our requests or made themselves available for comment. Kevin Lowry, a member of the Ocean Beach Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), which can approve or reject property owners’ requests to override the building inspector denying permits, said he was unable to comment since it was the first he’d heard of the situation. He deferred to the board chairman, Joel Burris, who declined to comment along with the ZBA’s attorney. Minksi as well could not be reached for comment.
Safety Questions: Ex-Ocean Beach Building Inspector Gerald Driscoll, who has over a decade of experience in the industry, said his experience in the village took a downturn after Mallott was elected to his first of two terms as mayor in 2010.
Driscoll served the majority of his tenure under Mallott’s predecessor, former Mayor Joseph Loeffler, Jr. Driscoll, who clashed with Mallott’s ex-Deputy Mayor Thomas Nolter – who’s also a local developer – said the difference was “night and day” in how he was treated between the Loeffler and Mallott administrations.
 “Everything I did the village challenged,” Driscoll said of his experience under Mallott and Nolter. During the Loeffler years, Driscoll said, “There were some heated conversations and discus- sions, but never an open challenge to my authority.”
Driscoll didn’t go down without a fight. He issued Nolter two summonses on May 13, 2011, including a stop work order for allegedly failing to meet building code on a construction site. Nolter pleaded not guilty to the charges in village court June 17 of that year.  Eight days after that court appearance, the ZBA granted Nolter a variance for a front-yard setback on the house, which was 2 feet too close to the street under the code. In August, Village Justice William Wexler dismissed Driscoll’s violation against Nolter, who declined to seek re-election in 2014. When a court observer asked Wexler to explain his decision, the judge declined. Driscoll resigned four days later.“I said, ‘you know what…I’m not gonna play their games anymore,’” Driscoll recalled.Both he and Gelsomine independently described Ocean Beach as “the Wild West” while recalling similar experiences of being asked to turn a blind eye to code violations. Motivations appeared to vary, they said.“The village goes, ‘eh, it’s too much money to fight it,’” Gelsomine said of one home that the ex-building inspector recalled was in clear violation of multiple codes and had a large case file from multiple inspectors documenting the alleged wrongdoing.“Nobody wants to be the bad guy,” he said. “They all wanna get re-elected or re-appointed.”Gelsomine noted that building codes are enacted to protect the public from the dangers of unsound construction that can cause health and fire hazards. “These building codes are for safety…being popular is not an alternative to safety,” he said. “I fear for [the] safety of village residents from possible ramifications of one homeowner’s selfishness.”Ex-inspectors Santora, Whalen, nor officials with L.K. McLean Associates returned calls for comment. Mallott also declined to comment on the allegations.As of press time, the village had a help wanted advertisement on its website seeking a new building inspector. Will Minski’s replacement stick around longer than any of the other building inspectors under the Mallott administration? Stay tuned.
Construction at OB Village Hall, August 2016.