Almanac

News - August 11, 2010

Atherton building official retires from department facing fierce criticism

by Renee Batti

Atherton Building Official Mike Wasmann announced last week that he will retire on Sept. 18, exiting a department that has seen its share of turmoil and has been the target of fierce criticism since around 2005.

Appointed to the position in February 2007, Mr. Wasmann replaced Mike Hood, who retired abruptly in June 2006, shortly after Atherton officials admitted to hiring an investigator to look into allegations of impropriety in the building department.

Mr. Wasmann has himself been the target of public criticism, particularly by resident Kimberly Sweidy, who in June called for Mr. Wasmann's firing. Former town finance director John Johns, who produced a stinging audit of the building department in 2006, has also been a strong critic of Mr. Wasmann, questioning a number of inspections he performed on houses that Mr. Johns asserts are not in compliance with the town's code.

Mr. Wasmann told The Almanac that he underwent heart surgery in April, and that fact, plus his approaching 61st birthday, prompted him and his family to conclude it was time to retire.

He would not comment on Ms. Sweidy's criticism.

Although he is officially on staff until the middle of next month, he will begin a vacation after this work week, so his last day on the job will be Friday, Aug. 13, according to Assistant City Manager Eileen Wilkerson.

Ms. Wilkerson said that Mr. Wasmann's retirement was "for solely personal reasons." She said the decision was entirely his, and noted that "he's done so many good things here." The town, she added, will host a retirement party for him "to celebrate with him and see him into his future."

Ms. Sweidy called for Mr. Wasmann's firing in June in a written notice to City Council members and town officials about the multi-million-dollar retrofitting and repair projects she and her husband, Raymie Stata, are having to have done on their custom-built home.

The building department, she said, was guilty of "gross negligence" in the way it conducted inspections of the house as it was being constructed and in ultimately signing off on the project.

Mr. Wasmann, she said, is "the town employee with the most culpability," conducting some of the house inspections himself, and overseeing a department that failed to properly detect the many problems the family has discovered since moving into the house on Broadacres Road, including serious structural deficiencies.

In attempting to figure out how her home construction project passed muster with the town's building department, Ms. Sweidy began an investigation. About two months ago, she discovered that Mr. Wasmann's certification as a building inspector had lapsed in June 2007, five months after he had been promoted from senior building inspector to building official. And, she found, he does not hold building official certification.

After the town learned of Mr. Wasmann's failure to renew his building inspector's certification, he took "the necessary steps" to reinstate it, and completed the process in June, Ms. Furth said in a June 29 letter to Ms. Sweidy.

In an e-mail sent in response to Mr. Wasmann's announcement, Ms. Sweidy wrote: "Mr. Wasmann's 'retirement' comes as a relief. However, we will not have a repeat of the Mr. Hood situation. Out of sight is not out of mind.

"'Retirement' does not obviate the need for accountability and remediation. This is just the first step."

Ms. Wilkerson said the town hasn't had a chance to discuss options for replacing Mr. Wasmann. Just as town managers review all positions when they become vacant, "We will be looking at all aspects of the building official position at this time, now that Mr. Wasmann has announced his retirement."

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