Thorough review needed of county building permits

info@islandpacket.comFebruary 7, 2014 

Two former Beaufort County building inspectors betrayed the public's trust and jeopardized its safety, accepting bribes in exchange for building permits.

The two men, arrested after a monthlong investigation by the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office and sentenced to one year in prison, received more than $200,000 in cash and goods during a 12-year period, according to a witness cited in a sheriff's office report. In return, the two workers expedited permits and issued final approvals without inspections, the witness said.

We're pleased the county has changed some of its inspection policies. For example, additional peer reviews now happen after inspections, ensuring multiple sets of eyes review construction work. And inspectors are now routinely assigned to new areas, lessening the likelihood of any undue coziness between the county workers and builders. The county's building codes director, Chuck Atkinson, said he now personally reviews and signs off on each file before it is closed, creating an approval system that lessens the likelihood of insider scams.

Still, we're not convinced the county has gone far enough to ensure all structures supposedly inspected by the two men were actually inspected. It's a concern for those who currently occupy the buildings, unaware of any safety problems lurking behind their walls, prospective buyers of the structures and the county itself, which could be held liable if future building defects are discovered.

The county has attempted to identify properties that might have been involved in false inspections dating back to 2005. A team of county workers reviewed page-by-page examination of the permits the office was reviewing and had recently completed. They searched for abnormalities like date discrepancies, irregular approvals and missing signatures.

In the end, thousands of permit applications from across the country were reviewed, dating back to 2005. But the hunt stopped there.

Because no additional discrepancies were discovered in the department's active files, the team did not continue its search through older files.

"Based on what we found, there was nothing compelling to say this had happened on other projects," other than the ones uncovered by the Sheriff's Office, Atkinson said. "We were looking for that, and it just wasn't there."

Even one building that does not meet code is too many. It would be worth the county's time to conduct a complete and thorough review of every inspection in which the two men played a part, assuring the public the county has done everything within its power to safeguard against faulty inspections.

Such a review will be laborious. It will require a fair amount of time. And it could turn up absolutely nothing.

But after such worrisome revelations, the county must conduct a complete investigation, not just a convenient one .

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