Friday, November 27, 2009

A HORSE IS A HORSE OF COURSE ~ But What is a Building Superintendent?

Interesting question, that.

The Village of Mineola's job description for the position of Superintendent of Buildings calls for:

"(1) a High School graduate and eight years of experience in planning and construction of buildings, including five years of progressively more responsible experience in all phases of building inspection work, at least three years of which must have been in a supervisory capacity;
(2) completion of at least two years of college, with courses in engineering and six years of experience as described in (1)."

That seems fairly straightforward.  So let's see.  Who would plan and
construct buildings?  An architect. 


A structural engineer.  A licensed general contractor.  A carpenter perhaps.  Maybe even a parking meter attendant.

Whoa!  Wait a minute Mr. Postman !!!  Did you read that right?  A parking meter attendant?  Why would anybody hire a parking meter attendant to be a Building Superintendent?  That's as crazy as promoting a former carpenter from the Nassau County Correctional Center to be Manager of a Hempstead town cemetary.  And we know how that turned out:
 ( ) 

OK, so you can expect that kind of tomfoolery from the likes of  Uniondale.  After all, they're just a lowly hamlet, and we know how THOSE places are run what with all the cronyism, the corruption, and the political favoritism that is de rigeur.  But such falderol doesn't go down in an Incorporated Village like Mineola.  Especially with someone like Jack Martins at the helm.  No siree Bob!  Why he's the paradigm of integrity.  He would never put the Village at risk by allowing someone with a questionable pedigree to man the helm of Mineola's Building Department.

Would he?

Let's take a gander at Daniel B. Whalen's employment history with the Nassau County Department of Civil Service.  He started as a seasonal park worker in June 1994 at $10 per hour.  He continued along this career path until April 15, 1998 when he took the position of part-time parking meter attendant with the Village of New Hyde Park.  The pay was better - $17.68 an hour - but maybe it wasn't good enough because he resigned his position on August 20th that year.

Now you may be wondering - how could he support a family on a part-time salary like that?  According to urban legend, Mr. Whalen had an interest in a bar - or two (as in drinking establishments).  So maybe civil service was a way for him to earn some steady scratch.  Who knows?  But he was climbing that career ladder because six months after he left New Hyde Park, Whalen was hired by the Village of Westbury as a bonafide, full-time Complaint Investigator at $32,500 yearly.  Congrats Dan!  Momma's got a brand new bag!

Here's the catch.  The CI post was a competitive position, and Whalen was hired on a provisional basis meaning he had to pass the Civil Service exam within nine months of his hire date.  Clarification:  he not only had to pass, but he had to obtain "reachable" status.  In other words, he had to score high enough to be among those at the top of the list in order to be considered for the limited number of jobs.  But he didn't.  The Village of Westbury was thus required by law to terminate his provisional employment as a Complaint Investigator.

So what did the Trustees of the Village of Westbury do?

Effective November 15, 1999 they promoted Dan Whalen to Building Superintendent - an EXEMPT position requiring NO TESTING - at a salary rate of $49,000 per year!  That's a 50% salary hike for someone who couldn't even qualify to be a Complaint Investigator!

Were I a resident of the Village of Westbury, I'd be mighty pissed off.  But it seems those good people have been doing the Happy Dance since 2002 because as of that September, DW became Mineola's problem.  A $100,000 a year problem by now.

That's right friends.  When he left Westbury, Whalen's salary was up to $67,000 per annum.  When he joined VOM in September 2002, it was at an hourly rate of $43.13 which works out to $78,496.60.  That's more than a 17% pay increase in one fell swoop.  As of June 2008 his hourly pay rate was $54.70 for an annual salary of $99,553.14.  Just in case anybody's counting, that works out to nearly a 4% annual increase every year.  No civil service test required.  No customer service skills required.  Sound judgement not required.  The ability to ascertain where to draw the line in terms of personal relationships with subordinates? Not required.

So what are the taxpayers getting for their money?  Well, over the years a number of complaints have been filed with the employees' union against Mr. Whalen.  He has issued permits for non-conforming structures in violation of both the Village Code and NYS code.  He has allowed a certain property owner to take years to construct a house without requiring a single permit extension.  He issued that same owner a final Certificate of Occupancy despite the fact that there are no leaders, gutters or downspouts on the house - another violation of NYS law.  Nor had a final survey on the property been done at the time as is also required by law. 

He allowed another already non-conforming house to be expanded without requiring the owners to go before the Board of Zoning Appeals so the public could comment on the proposed construction.  Now this matter has gone to court.  And there are so many other examples.

In the interest of full disclosure, Whalen received certification as a NYS Code Enforcement Officer on August 31, 1998.  So he's got book learnin', which is a plus.  But the job description calls for PRACTICAL CONSTRUCTION  EXPERIENCE. 

As in: does he know the face end of a hammer from the claw end?

Prior to being appointed as Westbury's building superintendent, had he ever installed or repaired plumbing other than plunging the toilet in his own house?  Had he ever overseen or otherwise participated in a concrete pour or the shoring up of a foundation?  What prior supervisory experience did he have in the construction field?  (Looking over your bartender's shoulder to ensure he's not being too generous with the whiskey in the highballs doesn't count!)  What does his college transcript show?  Did he take any engineering courses?

Here's an experiment for you.  Go to the Village of Mineola and submit a request under the Freedom of Information Law to review Dan Whalen's Curriculum Vitae or job application.  See what response you get.  He's a civil servant paid with taxpayer dollars, but according to Mineola's Board of Trustees the taxpayers don't have a right to review his qualifications. "Unwarranted invasion of personal privacy" is what they'll tell you - even though he's a public servant and the courts have ruled time and again that public servants are not entitled to the same level of personal privacy as those who work in the private sector.  The Committee on Open Government has offered opinion after opinion about the right of the public to have access to the employment history and job credentials of their employees.  But Jack Martins doesn't give a rat's ass.  He's hell bent on protecting Dan Whalen despite the complaints he's heard from village residents, contractors and Whalen's fellow employees.

And that says it all.

So, getting back to the original question:  What is a Building Superintendent?  Go to your Webster's to look it up.  But DON'T expect to see Daniel B. Whalen's picture next to that definition.