Engineers battle NYC mayor over building commissioner position

The mayor wants to drop the requirement in the City Charter that only a registered architect or licensed engineer can hold the position, according to the New York Times. By doing so, Mayor Bloomberg hopes to deepen the pool of commissioner candidates.

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer Staff June 19, 2008

Engineers and architects are fighting Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s efforts to downgrade the qualification requirements for the city’s building commissioner: The mayor wants to drop the requirement in the City Charter that only a registered architect or licensed engineer can hold the position, according to the New York Times.

The mayor, with the support of City Council speaker Christine C. Quinn, seeks to deepen the pool and managerial talent of candidates for the position, which has been vacant since

Patricia Lancaster, an architect, resigned last month

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However, professional societies of architects and engineers, and the New York Building Congress, said only a technical expert is capable of running a department that handles a range of responsibilities, which include enforcing safety laws, building codes, and zoning regulations; and curbing fatal construction accidents at a time when New York is struggling to keep pace with a building boom.

“I’m tremendously concerned about construction site safety,” said John F. Hennessy III, chairman of the American Council of Engineering Companies, “but I’m also concerned about the long-term safety of buildings. Materials, products and building systems approved today have to last for the next 40 years.”

Under the mayor’s proposal, the commissioner would not have to be an architect or engineer as long as the first deputy is.

Architects and engineers have testified, petitioned and lobbied against the idea. If the measure is approved, Robert P. Stelianou, president of the New York State Society of Professional Engineers, said his group will sue.

Behind the debate stirs a city agency desperately trying to add inspectors as accidents mount. Its chief crane inspector was arrested on charges of taking bribes . Deaths from construction-related accidents have climbed to 15 this year, up from 13 in all of 2007.

The mayor has gained some support for his effort within the Council, the State Legislature, and the construction industry.

Quinn said the department should be “led by people who are both good managers and have the technical training and expertise to oversee and understand all of what falls within Buildings’ purview.”