The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

December 29, 2012

Ashtabula County building official retiring

David Smith will stay on while board seeks replacement

Star Beacon

JEFFERSON — Hiring a new building inspector will be on the list of tasks facing commissioners in the new year.

David Smith, who has worked for the county since 1999, decided to retire at the end of this year because of changes in the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS). Smith, 62, said he’s not ready to quit working, but because of the cost of living adjustment (COLA) changes in PERS that will affect workers who retire starting next year, he decided to lock in the guaranteed 3 percent COLA by retiring in 2012.

“This change (to PERS) is a major one,” Smith said. “They are trying to preserve the pension, that’s their goal, and nobody can blame them for that.”

“I’m not retiring to quit working; I’m retiring because of the change in the law,” he added.

Smith said he’s been toying with the idea for several months and recently told the board of his decision. But the county will still have his services until a replacement is hired and acclimated. In a resolution approved Thursday, the board approved re-hiring Smith at an hourly rate during the interim.

“I’m going to help them get through the process while they search for my replacement,” Smith said.

The board literally will not be able to find someone with Smith’s unique set of credentials. For starters, he is the only person in the world to achieve the distinction of earning every one of the 61 International Code Council (ICC) certifications. Since achieving the accomplishment a year ago, two additional certifications have been added; Smith is uncertain if he’ll tackle those, as well.

The long list of certifications range from basic building inspector to commercial energy, fire inspector, master of special inspection and multiple residential and structural inspection certifications. Smith has taken and passed 45 exams in his quest for this distinction.

His educational background is likewise diverse, especially for someone in the building trades. He received his bachelor of arts in religious studies and his master of arts in applied linguistics. He has an associate’s in petroleum technology and a certificate to teach English as a second language. He studied the Arabic language for three years and was a construction foreman in Jordan and a language instructor in Saudi Arabia.

“I enjoy learning,” Smith said.

A California native who still loves the surf, Smith came to northeast Ohio as a result of his wife, Mary Lou, who has family in the Cleveland area. Smith said he literally walked into his first job when they moved to northeast Ohio — he went to the Euclid City Hall and asked the mayor’s secretary if there was a board where jobs were posted. She introduced him to the mayor, who asked Smith if he would be interested in being the building and zoning inspector.

Smith filled that position for eight years. From there, he went to Kent, where he was chief building inspector until coming to Ashtabula County 14 years ago.

“It was a very broad position,” he said. “This has been a very good experience here; it’s given me broad experience.”

Smith is the chief building official for all of Ashtabula County — 27 townships, three cities and seven villages. He also works with fire departments and other agencies that deal with public safety.

“You work with a lot of different people,” Smith said. “It’s a team effort.”

“Ultimately, the goal is to provide safety,” he added. “What we do is preventive work.”

Smith occasionally finds himself at odds with people who don’t share his passion for doing things the right way.

“I’m not popular with that person who, perhaps, is working without a permit,” Smith said. “I like to think I take the time to help someone understand the code’s requirements. You can always challenge a building official’s decision, but you have to understand the code in order to do that.”

Smith said the person who replaces him will need to be a State of Ohio registered architect or professional engineer, or have extensive supervisory construction/ building experience with the proper formal training and certifications — Ohio certified building, residential building and building inspector, at a minimum. Because the county has a large number of mobile homes, that person also should be an inspector certified by the Ohio Manufactured Home Commission.

He anticipates a great deal of interest in the position, but cautioned that the requirements are much more stringent than they once were.

“It’s not like it used to be, maybe years ago when you had a contractor who was really knowledgeable ... to do this work in the State of Ohio, you are required to be certified,” he said.

With Smith’s retirement, the county also will lose its certified flood plain manager. Smith has served as administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Flood Plain Management Program for the county’s 27 townships and construction within designated flood plains.

As for his plans once the replacement is hired, Smith said they include more working and learning.

“If you look at my life, I’m always learning something,” he said.