A month ago, a small political bombshell dropped at 205 Claremont Ave. when Robert McLoughlin, about to be terminated as the town’s construction official, demanded his job back — saying otherwise he would tell the state about Mayor Jerry Fried had used political interference on behalf of developers around town.
McLoughlin didn’t get his job back, and he did report the town to the state. Meanwhile, the mayor and town manager Marc Dashield framed the decision to let McLoughlin go as a cost-cutting measure and told of a plan to contract with Glen Ridge to do construction inspections for Montclair.
A month later — at the busiest time of the year in the construction business — Montclair is no further toward an agreement with Glen Ridge, and the construction office is hobbling through with an interim officer, Phil Buchoo, and a part-time electrical inspector. McLoughlin, former fire chief for the town, did electrical inspections as well as running the construction office. Inspections, which are supposed to be conducted within 72 hours of a contractors’ request according to state regulations, are now taking as long as two weeks to schedule.
Someone requesting an electrical inspection this past Tuesday, June 14 would have been told that the first available date was Wednesday June 29.
“I’m aware that there are issues with scheduling inspections,” said Janice Talley, planning director for Montclair. “Are we at peak efficiency? No. [But] I haven’t received any complaints from contractors.”
“I don’t know any place where people can do it within 72 hours,” said Marc Dashield, township manager. He added that “we’ve had discussions” with Glen Ridge and “we’re still working on it.” He hopes to present a shared-services plan to the council at its next meeting, July 12.
Michael Rohal, administrator for Glen Ridge, confirmed that “We had preliminary discussions about a shared services agreement” but said no deal has been reached.
“I was sorry to see Bob McLoughlin let go,” said Montclair builder Jack Finn. “He really pulled that office together. It ran smoother. I felt that he raised the bar. He held people to a high standard.”
But Finn added, “He was not a soft and fuzzy kind of guy and he probably stepped on people’s toes.”
As for the lag in scheduling inspections, Finn said, “You learn to think ahead and plan ahead.”
Another builder, who was no fan of McLoughlin personally, acknowledged that McLoughlin “made the office run better” than previous construction officials. Even under McLoughlin’s stewardship, though, the town rarely made the 72-hour inspection scheduling deadline, he said.
Developer Cary Heller said there is “enormous backlog” in the system and speculated that scheduling delays may “cause people to go underground” and bypass the inspection process altogether.
The state is investigating McLoughlin’s charges but will not comment until the probe is complete.
McLoughlin was receiving a pension from his former fire chief position while collecting a salary as construction official.