by Rick Bell FAIA Executive Director AIA New York
On May 6, the Governmental Operations Committee of the New York City Council tacitly agreed with the architects and engineers packing the City Hall committee hearing room that we were right — a registered architect or professional engineer should continue to head the NYC Department of Buildings. This was done not by a vote, but by avoidance of a vote, or, in fact, by lack of any visible support for Intro 755, which, if passed, would eliminate this requirement about the experiential and training requirements for the Buildings Department head. By cogent and probing questions, the Government Ops members present, including Councilmembers Joseph P. Addabbo, Inez E. Dickens, Erik Martin Dilan, Dominic M. Recchia, Jr., and Larry B. Seabrook, put the Administration’s representative, Anthony Crowell, in the position of defending the indefensible. Crowell, in essence, said that it didn’t matter whether or not a Commissioner who knew anything about buildings could head the Buildings Department so long as the nominee was a good manager and good communicator.
Other council members not on the committee holding the hearing, including Jessica Lapin, John Liu, Rosie Mendez, James Oddo, and David Yassky, sat at the hearing table to aggressively challenge Crowell’s arguments. Liu, for one, stated that the proposed legislation was “absurd” on the face of it. In times of heightened concern about building safety, the idea that the Buildings Commissioner did not need to be trained and tested on how buildings are made safe seemed wrong to all of the council members speaking — and to 100% of those members of the public who came to testify.
Many industry leaders, including Michael Macaluso, RA, President of the Architects Council of New York, and Anthony Schirripa, AIA, AIANY Vice-President for Public Outreach, were joined inside and outside the room by other chapter leaders from all five NYC borough components. The American Council of Engineering Companies New York Chapter was represented at the meeting by its national chair, John F. Hennessey, III, PE, and its local chapter head, Hannah O’Grady. A letter from Christine McEntee, Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer of the AIA national component was read into the record by AIANY Policy Coordinator Laura Manville.
The Chapter’s position statement also became part of the testimony and is attached to this summary. It was accompanied — think Miracle on 34th Street — by petitions signed by more than 3,000 individuals saying the same thing, “No PE’s, No Justice.” More signatures are needed. Click the link, add your name and e-mail it to the AIANY.
The fight is not over. A compromise bill, asking to temporarily put aside the needed experiential requirements, is within the realm of possibility, and could come back to the City Council’s Committee within the next two weeks. Please write or e-mail your Councilmember now, whether she or he is on the Governmental Operations Committee or not. It makes no sense for the City’s Health Commissioner to not be a doctor, whether for four years, four months, or four weeks. It makes less sense, given the professional needs for code and zoning interpretation, action, and decision-making, for the Buildings Commissioner not to be a licensed design professional. New York needs a Buildings Commissioner who knows how buildings stand up.