Brookfield’s Building Department could become a political battleground for the 2007 village election as it struggles to keep its head above water after the loss of its lone full-time building inspector on July 7. William Kernan, full-time building inspector for the past seven-and-a-half years has announced his retirement, and the village’s PEP Party-appointed management has come under fire from rivals in the VIP Party recently over the ability of the Building Department to do its job.
VIP Party members in the last month have gone after the Building Department, both publicly and privately, for its handling of a construction site in the 3300 block of Elm Avenue. In addition, Wil Brennan, a former village trustee and VIP member, in a letter to the Landmark last week questioned the ability of the current village officials to manage code enforcement and other building issues. Brennan has already confirmed that he will be running for village trustee in 2007.
“Quite frankly, it’s a department that’s been needing help for quite some time,” Brennan said. “Even [former Building Director] Jack Leddin, wonderful guy that he was, didn’t follow all the codes.
“While I was in office for four years, it was actively a bone of contention with me,” Brennan added. “No one wanted to touch it. It’s chaos; we don’t have a good system.”
Brookfield village president, Michael Garvey, a member of the PEP Party, disputed Brennan’s claim that the department is in chaos, saying that his administration was cleaning up the previous administration’s mess.
“We’re actually turning things around completely in the department,” Garvey said. “We have a head of the department with a degree in urban planning, who’s rejuvenating it. I’m actually thrilled with the way the department is moving along.”
When Kernan leaves next week, the village will be working to find his replacement. While inspections will continue to be scheduled, the department will be short-handed. Chipping in personally to help the village’s part-time plumbing inspector, part-time electrical inspector and part-time building inspector (in the form of former Fire Chief Charles LaGreco), will be Assistant Village Manager Keith Sbiral.
“I hope to have Bill Kernan’s replacement hired relatively quickly, in July,” said Sbiral, who downplayed the personnel shortage as a temporary one. “We haven’t had a problem to date concerning inspections.”
Since PEP was voted back into power in 2005, however, the Building Department has seen several personnel shakeups. Two part-time building inspectors hired during VIP’s years in the driver’s seat were let go, leaving Kernan alone to handle both building and health inspections. Although LaGreco was hired on part-time to relieve the crunch on Kernan and health inspections later were contracted out to the Cook County Health Department, Kernan remained the lone full-timer in the department.
Sbiral said while he’s sorry to see Kernan go, especially during the busy summer building season, the shakeups in the department are a preface to a complete restructuring designed to make it more professional and efficient.
“I’ve heard a lot of issues with the code department since the day I got here,” said Sbiral, who signed on as assistant village manager/code enforcement administrator in January for $93,000 per year. “The goal has been to reorganize the department to make it more professional, ethical and efficient. We’re certainly going to miss Bill [Kernan], but we’re going to stay above water.”
Sbiral said plans are in the works not only to replace Kernan with a full-time certified building inspector, but to hire an additional full-time planner/building inspector and a part-time inspector who would focus primarily on property maintenance issues.
Of the full-time planner/code enforcement position, Sbiral said “a key part of the position is that the person be able to do plan review and be sure the plans meet the specifications of our codes.”
Brennan said he would like to see Brookfield hire a full-time building director, saying Sbiral doesn’t have the experience to handle the position.
“He’s been out of college for five years,” Brennan said. “It’s nothing personal, but the money is being wrongly spent on what needs to be fixed.”
Garvey called Brennan’s alarm politics.
“I truly believe this is an attempt by the other party to imply something is wrong,’ Garvey said. “There is a plan in place. We’re cleaning up the mess we inherited.”
As for his decision to retire as the village’s only full-time building inspector, Kernan, 68, said it was simply the right time.
“Things are going OK, but there’s a lot of stress and I’m busier than a one-armed paper hanger,” said Kernan, reached last week in Wisconsin, where he was serving as a race official for the June Sprints Road America. Kernan is a passionate auto and racing fan who spends much of his free time at local and regional racing events.
“I have no complaints against the Village of Brookfield,” added Kernan, a Riverside resident and former chairman of that village’s Economic Development Commission. “There’s no big red flag. It’s just time for me to say it’s time for take care of Bill and his family.”