Building-industry changes will aid safety, coordination

David Dickerson
David Dickerson

In his Jan. 6 commentary, former state housing official Jack Coleman suggests that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Gov. Matt Bevin’s executive order reorganizing eight state building industry boards and creating the Housing, Buildings and Construction Advisory Committee is assurance that, as a state, we are learning from our history by innovating and changing government structure to meet present-day demands.

Coleman and the Herald-Leader have shamelessly exploited the tragedy of the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire and the Oakland warehouse fire by correlating the governor’s reorganization with the incidents. Both events were tragic, and the employees of the Department of Housing, Buildings and Construction work tirelessly to ensure events like these will not occur again.

Coleman chooses to capitalize on morbidity instead of examining how the reorganization will help the department further its mission by streamlining building boards and creating a collaborative advisory committee.

Under the order, the department’s structure will essentially remain the same, with many of the inspectors and support staff from Coleman’s tenure still in place. The day-to-day operations will not change, and the department will certainly not be “gutted,” as he suggests. Instead, the reorganization will allow the best and brightest minds to share ideas and further develop a successful framework for the entire industry, ultimately making the commonwealth safer.

During his first year in office, Bevin has shown an unwavering commitment to reducing unnecessary and redundant bureaucracy. History has shown that a government that remains stagnant and mired in “the way things have always been” cannot meet the demands of changing industries and a growing state. Both Bevin’s election and the recent change of power in the state House were referendums on the “business as usual” mentality that state boards and agencies have been operating under for decades.

The advisory committee will have 17 members and will include a wide range of industry experts. These experts will be from the same professions that the previous boards supervised and will include an architect, an engineer, a mobile- or manufactured-home retailer or certified installer, and one licensed expert from each of the following: HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning), plumbing, elevator and the electrical trades.

Additional members will include the state fire marshal and the director of building code enforcement. The committee will be chaired by the commissioner of the Department of Housing, Buildings and Construction.

By placing qualified professionals in one collective body, the committee will improve efficiencies. Under the prior system, individual boards operated in a vacuum, focusing on their own sector without an understanding of how changes in one field can impact the entire industry. The reorganization will not “silence correlative divisions,” as Coleman suggests, but will instead allow for communication and collaboration on decisions to ensure the safety, security and growth of the commonwealth.

The executive order also safeguards citizen board members by changing the board’s structure to comply with the requirements of the United States Supreme Court’s decision in North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission. That ruling holds that the state must actively supervise boards comprised of market-based participants for board members to enjoy antitrust immunity.

Without this change, the former boards can be held liable for monetary damages and antitrust violations resulting from their decisions. We cannot expect the best and brightest to serve on state boards if they are left vulnerable to litigation.

As Coleman mentions, the 39th anniversary of the Department of Housing, Buildings and Construction occurred in December. In that time, the building industry boards have operated under the same structure, even though the industry itself has seen dramatic changes in building codes, plan review and other critical areas.

It’s important that the boards that issue licenses and recommend regulatory changes can operate under a structure that is responsive to the changing times. The formation of the new advisory committee creates the structure necessary to meet industry demands while ensuring the safety of all Kentuckians.

David Dickerson is secretary of Kentucky’s Public Protection Cabinet.