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Malden needs temporary hearing officer for fire, building codes

Posted by Matt Byrne  October 1, 2012 12:50 PM

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The City of Malden is seeking to hire a second municipal hearing officer to adjudicate violations of the fire and building codes, after the current hearing officer missed an annual training session.

The stop-gap measure, if approved by Mayor Gary Christenson, will cost the city $6,000, temporarily doubling the price to taxpayers to ensure fire and building code enforcement.

Danielle Hender, a Malden attorney and the current hearing officer, is trained only in the administration and evaluation of health code cases. Hired in July 2010, Hender missed an opportunity to take the training course in March of this year. She is paid a $6,000 annual stipend, according to the city.

The oversight surfaced during a reorganization of Malden government after Christenson took office in January. Christopher Webb, formerly the director of the Board of Health, was chosen to lead a new department that oversees all permits and code enforcement. Hender, who was appointed by the City Council and technically reports to the body, largely functioned independently as a hearing officer.

Now she reports to Webb, who has faced pressure from Christenson to clean up the derelict corners of Malden neighborhoods and correct the issues that can stand between residents and a higher quality of life.

In a phone interview, Webb said it was unclear why Hender failed to receive the training, but that when the temporary fire and building code officer is in place, his department expects to recover the $6,000 invested for the temporary help.

"I'm gambling my budget," Webb said. "But I don't care about the money. I want these inspectors to properly enforce these citations, and the guy with the bad fire escape can have due process."

Webb said he is willing to front the money if it means the city's inspectors can go after more violations, which ultimately effect residents' quality of life and even in extreme cases, their safety, he said.

"So many things can come of it," Webb said. "After schools what is [Malden's] number one asset? It's our rental properties. We should be known as the city predominantly known for its housing. That's how Somerville worked its way out of its little doldrum. They worked with their landlords."

Matt Byrne can be reached at mbyrne.globe@gmail.com.

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