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Bureau of Building Inspection’s split from Pittsburgh city agency debated

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Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Maura Kennedy has been chief of the Bureau of Building Inspection since March.

Controversial legislation that would split Pittsburgh’s Bureau of Building Inspection from the Department of Public Safety triggered a heated City Council debate Wednesday, with one councilwoman criticizing the move as “an accident waiting to happen.”

Councilwoman Darlene Harris of Spring Hill cited an independent commission’s report on a fatal building collapse last year in Philadelphia that said the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections lost its focus on public safety when it became an independent entity and recommended combining it again with other public safety departments.

In an interview, one of the report’s authors said Pittsburgh is in danger of making a mistake by splitting BBI from Public Safety.

“It makes all the sense in the world to keep building safety in the same category as the police and fire departments because there’s so much interaction between them,” said Glenn Corbett, who chaired the commission appointed by Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter.

Kevin Acklin, chief of staff for Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, said public safety would remain BBI’s top priority if council approves the change to make it the Department of Permits, Licenses and Inspections. The administration budgeted $70,078 for a BBI employee to be a public safety liaison, he said.

“We’re making sure the public safety element of what they do, the code enforcement, is going to be done more strictly,” Acklin said.

Harris raised questions about BBI Chief Maura Kennedy’s work absences to attend school in Philadelphia. Harris and other administration sources told the Tribune-Review last week that Peduto’s administration is orchestrating the move because Kennedy does not work well with Public Safety Director Stephen A. Bucar, an allegation the administration has denied.

Kennedy did not respond to a request for comment.

“People’s lives are not something to play with,” Harris said. “Putting (BBI) out there on its own is an accident waiting to happen.”

Acklin acknowledged that Kennedy misses work every other Friday to attend classes at the University of Pennsylvania, where she is pursuing a master’s degree in business administration. He said the administration approved her leave before she started work March 17 as part of a flex-time program.

Kennedy, 33, of Lawrence-ville earns $100,889 a year. She will not be eligible to participate in the city’s tuition reimbursement program until after her one-year anniversary, according to personnel department rules.

“She remains fully available. I know that because I have been in contact with her,” Acklin said, responding to Harris’ criticisms.

He added that “a number” of city workers take advantage of flex time for schooling. “She works well over 40 hours a week.”

Claudia Smith, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2719, which represents about 400 city employees including those in the BBI, urged council to oppose the legislation.

Several council members, including R. Daniel Lavelle, who heads the Public Safety Committee, said they have concerns about the move but want to hear the Peduto administration’s reasons before deciding their vote.

Council postponed a preliminary vote Wednesday on the legislation for two weeks.

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or [email protected].

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