Not just the inspectors Bribery charged: Allegations should prompt reassessment of building permit process.

March 20, 1996

Some solace can be found in the quick disciplinary action Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III has taken against a building inspector who apparently was accepting bribes from contractors. Leon A. Peters, a supervisor of electrical inspections, has been suspended indefinitely without pay and State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy is investigating the possibility of criminal charges.

The prompt action, however, does not allay misgivings the public now about the operation of the Housing Department. Mr. Henson has been housing commissioner three years. Mr. Peters had been a housing inspector since 1974. The casualness of Mr. Peters' apparent misdeeds indicate he was conducting business in a manner to which he had become accustomed long before Mr. Henson took charge of the department.

So brazen were Mr. Peters' actions that it's hard not to surmise that what he was doing was common once, if not now, among the city's housing inspection force. Coupled with earlier reports that a superintendent of housing inspectors, Henry John "Jack" Reed III, owned some of the worst slum properties in the city, the public gets the impression that some housing inspectors long ago put themselves above the very laws it was their job to enforce.

That it has taken investigations and articles by this newspaper to make that apparent to Mr. Henson is troubling. It is another sign that his hands-on management style too frequently allows misdeeds to continue as usual in areas of the department that he has not had the time to give his personal attention. The inspection force obviously should have been more closely scrutinized and its problems dealt with years before now. Mr. Henson now admits its ethical disintegration deserves higher priority.

He must look beyond these cases to the housing code itself and the building permit regulations that make it preferable for some contractors and property owners to bribe an inspector who will allow them to shortcut the process. A plumber and an electrician told The Sun that cash "tips" and "bonuses" are routinely paid to inspectors who deliver permit applications or inspect jobs quickly instead of making them wait the typical three weeks. The full building permit process needs a re-evaluation.

Pub Date: 3/20/96

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