Cutting through DeKalb’s spin on the condemnation of Lord Stanley’s

***Update 4/17/2017: The Daily Chronicle published a related letter to the editor: “Social media uproar warranted regarding condemnation.” Thanks, DC.***

City of DeKalb is in spin cycle over actions taken to condemn Lord Stanley’s and Lord Stanley’s Annex earlier this month, defending its actions during the last council meeting and now on a blog hilariously called “Just the Facts.”

Item One: City is currently presenting the inspections that led to condemnation as routine fire-life safety inspections. Yet an April 7 newspaper story quotes the city attorney as saying condemnation was the culmination of months of work.

Also, the chief building official (CBO) accompanied the fire-life safety inspector on these inspections. This is anything but routine. Indeed, the CBO — the one person empowered to condemn buildings and declare structural emergencies — was hired on the argument that he would send out inspectors who are the most appropriate yet cost effective personnel for each job. He chose himself. Why?

And why the inconsistency over the stated level of involvement pre-condemnation? It’s actually weirder to think they went from zero to condemnation instead of advancing through the usual process of escalation.

Item Two: DeKalb claims it took action to declare an “emergency condemnation” of the two buildings. There is no such thing in DeKalb’s building code. There are condemnations (Section 108) and there are emergency measures (Section 109). To play loosely with the terms is either sloppy or intended to obfuscate.

Item Three: City is implying that because it conducts fire-life safety inspections of food establishments, it had the power to shut down Lord Stanley’s for “organic growth” in a room where there is food stored. That’s quite a reach — overreach, you might say. Section 108 of the building code only allows condemnation of unsafe structures and equipment. Jurisdiction over food sanitation belongs to the county. If city officials thought they had a case for shutdown, they should have called in the county health department. Why didn’t they?

Item Four: City’s chronology of events emphasizes how many times officials phoned the building owners and their attorneys. Unfortunately, they don’t count in any official way. Notice (Section 107) is supposed to be in writing. It should also be hand-delivered or mailed to the responsible party, and include the cause(s) for notice, correction orders that “allow a reasonable amount of time to make repairs and improvements,” and the right to appeal.

While notice was eventually hand-delivered to the building owners, they didn’t do it until the very day of the deadline for corrections. The delay caused another violation of code on the part of the inspectors, in that the same notice given to the owners also should have been posted in “conspicuous places” on the buildings. Instead, inspectors posted red paper placards that are appropriate only if/when building owners fail to correct violations by deadline.

Item Five: City officials have expressed concern several times for the well-being of the residents of these buildings. But if they really cared, they’d have posted the right notice so tenants would have understood that the problems with the apartments (smoke detectors, fire extinguishers) were relatively easy fixes. They wouldn’t have left the impression of an imminent forcible eviction and plastered “Danger – Keep Out” signs on their homes, and someone would have talked to the residents and answered their questions.

Nobody ended up homeless. For DeKalb that’s good, and I’m grateful. But maybe let’s raise the bar next time.

Conclusions

Overstepping lawful authority? Not following procedures? Callousness? Sounds like getting rid of the city manager was only the beginning of the cleanout needed at city hall.