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Berkeley Co. Council OKs qualifications for electrical code inspectors

February 05, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthewu@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Electrical code inspectors who wish to do inspection work on behalf of Berkeley County's planning, engineering and land use department must submit required documentation by March 4.

In a unanimous vote Thursday, the Berkeley County Council approved a list of qualifications that inspectors must annually provide to the county in order to perform electrical inspections.

The requirements include West Virginia Fire Marshal certification, an "errors and omissions" insurance policy with coverage of at least $1 million, and state business and contractor's licenses.

Last month, the council voted to end an exclusive electrical inspection work agreement the county had with Middle Department Inspection Agency (MDIA) on March 15. The deal with MDIA, in place for little more than a year, is being replaced with the previous arrangement that allowed multiple contractors the opportunity to do the work.

In the years ahead, electrical inspectors will be required to annually submit their qualifications to the county by Jan. 15. Electrical inspectors' qualifications, including certificates of continuing education, will be posted on the county's website for residents to consider when in need of an electrical inspection, according to the new requirements.

The county does not have paid electrical inspectors on its staff.

The council's decision is the latest development regarding how electrical inspections have been handled since county officials were sued in federal court in 2007 by an electrical inspector.

County officials in the summer of 2009 agreed to pay $15,000 to settle the suit. About $270,000 in attorneys' fees had been paid through the county's insurance policy as a result of the litigation, county legal counsel Norwood Bentley III said shortly after the settlement was reached.

The electrical inspector who sued the county claimed his constitutional rights had been violated. Federal District Judge John Preston Bailey ruled in 2008 that the now former county engineer had deprived the contractor of his due process rights when the county suspended his license for 60 days in 2007.

The court ruled that the West Virginia State Fire Marshal's office has the authority to suspend an electrical inspector's license, not the county, Bentley said.

The suspension letter that electrical inspector Charles N. Smith Jr. received in February 2007 from then-County Engineer William J. Teach came after Teach was contacted about the condition of electrical components of a building project off Peace Pipe Lane west of Hedgesville, W.Va., according to court records.

After Smith inspected the property in 2007, a second inspection by another inspector revealed 29 electrical code violations, including instances of missing receptacles, hanging wires for two fireplaces and a water heater that wasn't wired, according to court records.

Teach told Smith in a letter that his inspection privileges with Berkeley County were suspended, but the inspector contended he was not given notice of the complaint or given ample opportunity to contest the suspension, according to court records.

The legal concerns prompted county officials in 2008 to consider adding an electrical inspector to the county payroll, but that proposal ultimately was abandoned.

Just before Teach retired, county commissioners in December 2009 approved the county's exclusive agreement with MDIA to perform inspections.

County officials contended that their contract with MDIA gave the county more oversight of the work being done and the ability to respond to potential complaints about a particular inspection.

Last month, County Council member Doug Copenhaver, who led the push to re-establish a pool of electrical contractors, said he believed that the county faced more of a liability by relying on only one contractor.

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