Thursday, May 29, 2008

Mayor Pawlowski's Consulting Gig in Home Inspection

Much to the chagrin of Allentown curmudgeon Michael Molovinsky, Allentown city council late last year enacted a home sale inspection ordinance, at the urging of Mayor Pawlowski. As explained by Morning Call reporter Paul Muschick, all residential properties must be inspected before a sale to ensure they are up to code. This is in addition to whatever housing inspection may be required by the lender, and will cost homeowners an extra $200 a pop. Molovinsky calls this fee another nuisance tax. A random survey conducted by council member Michael Donovan indicates little public support. He's formed an ad hoc committee to re-evaluate the whole idea, although no one expects it to be repealed.

So who does the inspecting? Right now, that function is being performed by the city, but there is serious question whether it can handle residential inspections in addition to its existing program for rentals.

This is where Keystone Municipal Services enters this little play. According to The Morning Call, Keystone already serves thirty municipalities and is looking to move into the Lehigh Valley. It's even bid on work in Lehigh and Northampton counties. Home inspections are their bag, baby.

Guess who has a consulting gig with Keystone?

According to a Statement of Financial Interests filed on April 30, none other than Allentown Mayor Edwin E. Pawlowski. He must list all sources of income greater than $1,300.

Isn't that nice? Just think, after people get tired of waiting four years for a real estate inspection, this city will privatize its residential inspections, and consultant Ed will pick up a nice check. He'll wait 'till he leaves office so that everything is legit, but the writing is on the wall for anyone who can read.

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

Bernie,

Ed's vision of self grandiosity and altruism allows him to routinely engage such tactics. Look for the local press to ignore this information.

Scott Armstrong

Bill said...

1 Is this a conflict of interest as it appears to be?

2 Was this information fully disclosed and publicly discussed before the City Council meeting?

Bernie O'Hare said...

Bill,

I doubt this information was disclosed or discussed with city council. It's not technically a conflct.

Right now, there is no proposal to privatize residential inspection. But I do find it interesting that Pawlowski consults w/ an outfit that specializes in that area and then proposes that the city better start doing residential inspections.

Look for a bill to privatize ... not now, but down the road.

Valima said...

If this is not a classic case of a conflict of interest, I do not know what is.

Valima said...

Paron me..I misread the article..


This has the potential to be a conflict of interest. :)

I am of the opinion that privitization of government functionalities is a breeding ground for corruption.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Valima, I share your suspicion of privatization. As you note, this has potential for as conflict.

Anonymous said...

This is pretty routine in City Hall, where highly paid bureaucrats consult on the side. I've heard that City Planner Alan Salinger consults as an "urban planner" for a high profile land developer, who does large suburban subdivisions.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Can you identify this developer?

Chris Miller said...

Bernie
Right now in certain areas of the Lehigh Valley the buyer has the appraiser, their hired home inspector and the local government making inspections of the home. Government uses said inspection as a source of income.Bethhlehem use to be fairly lenient on the repairs but if they are not done within 30 days, the inspector comes out again and charges another $100.There is no need for that. The entire matter should be among the participating parties, buyer and seller. Buyer should hire a home inspector. Upon receipt of the report, buyer and seller should determine what needs to be repaired and who will pay for it. This way the entire process stays out of the hands of crooked government officials.

Joe Hilliard said...

Bernie,

How much did he make? I ask this question because this is the same Mayor who whined about his salary and that he works 24-7 as Mayor. I hear he has another consulting gig as well.....

We need to repeal the Home Inspection ordinance and the Mayor's pay raise.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Chris, There is much to be said for your argument, and there is much to be said for the argument that government has an obligation to protect the safety and security of its residents.

Here's what I would suggest - one home inspection by a home inspector who is satisfactory to the city. The home inspections done by lenders should be automatically acceptable to the city.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Joe,

The state requires elected officials to file a statement of financial interests for all direct and indirect sources of income from which they receive $1,300 or more. Pawlowski's statement, excerpting above, reveals two consulting firms:

1) Keystone Municipal Services, mentioned in my post; and

2) Urban Development Solutions, which appears to be his own consulting firm.

Regarding how much he was paid over the last year, it could be nothing. He may have decided to just list them, even though he gets nothing. He could also be making much more. He is under no obligation, so far as I know, to divulge the amount actually being paid to him.

Anonymous said...

Bernie - before you get too far out on letting the private sector do governmental inspections, please read the enabling legislation first, digest it, and make sure that your suggestion fits. Not sure that it does. The purpose of the home inspection is to protect not only the buyer's health safety and general welfare but the public which includes neighbors. Home inspections by local government also serve to identify illegal occupation of homes, illegal conversions to apartments, property maintenance problems involving rubbish, rodents, and upkeep. It is a wonderful tool to stop the perpetual poor/illegal use of a property. It is simply not a tool to "protect" the buyer.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 1:56,

I have not read the legislation closely and your point is valid. This may be more than a simple "nuisance tax," but Mayor Ed's connection to a home inspection privateer is still quite disturbing.

michael molovinsky said...

in terms of home inspection, one only look at the current excess's in commercial inspection. conolly, owner of livingston has 13 major properties in allentown, yet the city pushed them and their tenants around. this week they jailed the owner of a vacant commercial property with no tenants or public safety issues. this same bureaucracy is to come into your home and decide when and if you can sell it? mr. anon 1;56, you can vote yes at the referendum, most homeowners will vote no.

Anonymous said...

I'd caution everyone not to torpedo potentially good legislation (I agree w/ Anon 1:56 on the benefits of it) with this administration's misuse of it for their own purposes.

In my opinion the problem is that there are so many problems in A-town real estate that this legislation, correctly applied, is necessary. Of course, with any governmental entity it's a flip of the coin as to whether it would be correctly applied...and that's a damn shame.

Anonymous said...

The home inspection legislation in Allentown is a very good tool to ensure buying and neighborhoods to not receive the short end of the stick.

Allentown is the place where many valley residents buy their first home. Doing so is rarely an easy task for anyone. If the city becomes aware of a code violation, they must enforce the law regardless if the person bought the home 10 days ago or twenty years ago.

As far as the "potential conflict of interest" is concerned, the situation is inevitable considering the mayor's substantially low pay.

In any successful business or organization fair pay is determined by three primary factors:

1) External Fairness - relative to the pay for the same job in other organizations

2) Internal Fairness - Pay for the job with in the organization is relative to higher or lower positions in the organization

3)Employee Fairness - Pay is fair relative to coworkers on the same job

Number 3 is somewhat irrelevant for the Mayor's pay but clearly Mayor Ed's salary does not pass 1 or 2.

Concerned Citizen

Chris Miller said...

Bernie
I hate to admit this but your idea on the inspectors is very good. I do believe that the cities should conduct code inspections on rental properties when the tenant changes otherwise you are looking at a possible disaster. Of course, all new construction must be inspected across the state.

Bill Villa said...

Kudos to Bernie O'Hare for throwing a civic-minded monkey wrench into a "potential" conflict of interest which will likely guarantee it will never become an actual conflict of interest. Keep up the great work at keeping our local politicos on their toes, Berno.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"As far as the 'potential conflict of interest' is concerned, the situation is inevitable considering the mayor's substantially low pay."

That's a greedy asrgument used to justify larcenous behavior. This has nothing to do with the mayor's admittedly low salary. When the raise was enacted, did council ban outside employment? Of course not.
Your argument gives every minimum wage employee carte blanche to smash your car window and steal your radio. Don't try and use that ridiculous argument to hustfy what may be unethical behavior by Allentown's mayor. Instead, ask him what the hell he's doing there as a consultant.

michael molovinsky said...

all rental properties, and homes bought to rent, are already inspected under the rental inspection act. any property, rental or not, can be inspected on complaint from a neighbor or the city. the yellow pages have no less than 20 companies available to inspect houses for buyers who desire such assistance. allentown has a problem with people and crime, not with buildings. the guy lying on the mayors sidewalk yesterday didn't trip on a bad sidewalk, or get hit from falling debris, he got shot.

Anonymous said...

The home inspection by the city is nothing more than a revenue raiser. All who cite the potential benefits of the program are deluding themselves.

Problem properties in neighborhoods can be called in to code enforcement (by neighbors) and appropriate action taken. Unfortunately, those calls are frequently ignored - either completely or for far too long.

I have also spoken to some who are moving (and have been through the inspections) and the sellers have called them (the inspections) a joke.

Robert Sabatini said...

Dear Mr. O’Hare:

My name is Robert Sabatini, and I am the Managing Director, Management Services Group, Keystone Municipal Services, Inc. I noted in a recent column that you attempted to tie Keystone to a rental property inspection program. I am surprised that you did not attempt to contact Keystone regarding the relationship between the firm and the Mayor. Please allow me to clarify this business relationship.

Keystone is involved in the Early Intervention Program funded by the state. In 2004, Keystone was contracted by the City of Easton to work on its EIP program, a major component of which is a review of economic development activities for the City. We began work with Mr. Pawlowski after he resigned from the City, and prior to him announcing his candidacy for the position of Mayor. He performed some work with the Easton project, but had to turn it over to another party to complete. In 2007, Keystone again utilized his services for the EIP program in Lebanon City, and he was compensated by Keystone for his work.

With the exception of engaging his services and asking questions to clarify his report, I have had no contact with Mayor Pawlowski, other than being on an email list for events. Quite candidly, I did not know about proposed changes to the ordinance until today. Because Mayor Pawlowski has a business relationship with Keystone, we would have an affirmative obligation to disclose this information should we ever submit a proposal to the City for any work, and the political and legal chips would have to fall as they may. I would be surprised if Keystone were to attempt to serve the City in this manner, especially with the large workload that we currently have in our primary service area.

Mayor Pawlowski has never worked in the division that provides independent, municipally-contracted building inspection, zoning administration, code enforcement and related services to dozens of municipalities in southeastern Pennsylvania. He has strictly worked for the Management Services Group, with provides EIP services, interim management, executive search and other consulting services to municipalities and non-profit entities.

I hope that this information will help in understanding the relationship between Mayor Pawlowski and Keystone Municipal Services, Inc.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Mr. Sabatini,

Thank you for your comment, which I will post as part of a separate blog. You were not contacted bc this is not something you need explain. This is the obligation of the elected official to who disclosure laws apply. my own experience w/ Pawlowski is that he has been less than forthcoming, and I had no reason to expect any better from you.

What you've established is that the Mayor of Pa.'s third largest city was being paid by you for something during 2007. And despite what you're saying now, a recent MC article claims your outfit is looking to expand into the LV. Is it mistaken?

I think I understand the relationship very well. Would you mind disclosing the amount of money you paid Pawlowski in 2007?

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