Department of Buildings Commissioner Out At Brooklyn Office

By Helen Klein

In what is being seen by the agency’s critics as something of a shake-up in response to ongoing criticism of its record, the city’s Department of Buildings (DOB) has shuffled its cards, moving around the commissioners and deputy commissioners that head up several of the agency’s borough offices. Effective January 30th, Magdi Mossad — a physical engineer who most recently served as the Queens commissioner of buildings, but who had previously done a stint, from 1997 to 2000, as deputy borough commissioner in Brooklyn — will head up the Brooklyn office of DOB. He will replace Susan Hinkson, an architect, who had served as Brooklyn borough commissioner since April, 2003, and who had been deputy borough commissioner in Brooklyn between October, 2002 and April, 2003. Mossad has worked for DOB since 1984 and had been Queens borough commissioner for five years. Hinkson, who will be taking over as commissioner in Staten Island, will be assuming a post held on an interim basis by Werner DeFoe, who had been embroiled in controversy during his brief time heading up the Staten Island office. DeFoe had replaced Jorge Canepa, who had resigned from the position of Staten Island borough commissioner in April, 2005. DeFoe is being moved by DOB to the Bronx, where he will be the deputy borough commissioner. While Brooklyn is getting a new commissioner, its Deputy Borough Commissioner, Thomas Fariello, an architect, will remain in his post. He will be joined, however, by a second Deputy Borough Commissioner, Bryan Winter, also an architect, who is returning to DOB after a stint in the private sector. The move reflects the tremendous increase in development the borough has been experiencing. Until now, Manhattan has been the only borough to have two deputy commissioners. A statement on DOB’s website said that the changes had been instituted by DOB, “As part of the agency’s long term goal to professionalize the staff and standardize operations across all five boroughs….These changes will provide experienced managers with an opportunity to apply his or her skills to a new setting and are expected to invigorate our operations.” Asked about whether the move had resulted from criticisms of the department or the investigation being conducted with respect to the Brooklyn office (in response to a request from Assemblymember James Brennan) Jennifer Givner, an agency spokesperson, said, “This is standard operating procedure. Every so often, we shift management. It’s good practice to utilize people’s expertise in different areas. “Susan has been in Brooklyn through a lot of the down-zoning initiatives and she is very familiar with that,” Givner went on. “I think her expertise will be used greatly in Staten Island, which is undergoing some of the same issues.” Givner said she had “no information” on any investigation of the Brooklyn office, and referred this reporter to the city’s Department of Investigations (DOI). Emily Gest, a spokesperson for DOI said that the agency had received a letter from Brennan, asking for an investigation of DOB’s Brooklyn office. “We thank him for his concern,” Gest went on. “We are aware of the matter, and it has been under review.” Questions about DOB staff, said Gest, “Should really be addressed to the Department of Buildings.” Local elected officials had vastly different responses to the news. “I think the bottom line here is that enough frustration has been expressed over the operational shortfalls of DOB,” remarked City Councilmember Vincent Gentile, a member of the recently formed City Council task force on the oversight of DOB. “I think, if nothing else, this represents a new start, new blood for the Brooklyn office. It’s a good start. At this point, we are getting complaints and finding instances where DOB would be issuing permits under the old zoning. That’s ridiculous at this point.” “DOB,” added City Councilmember Lewis Fidler, “has a lot to answer for in terms of things going wrong. There is no question in my mind that the council is going to keep extraordinary pressure up on DOB to clean up their act. This move is an acknowledgment that there is legitimacy to the complaints. “You don’t move people around in this kind of passion unless you desire to improve the quality of the work,” Fidler added. “The biggest yelling has been coming from Staten Island so they moved Brooklyn’s commissioner there, but clearly there is enough yelling to go around.” City Councilmember Domenic Recchia, for his part, expressed dissatisfaction with the move, noting that he had written Mayor Michael Bloomberg to request that Hinkson not be transferred. “I’m not happy,” he confided. “I think Susan Hinkson has been an outstanding commissioner in Brooklyn. Obviously, the Bloomberg administration recognizes her talent, so they have shipped her to a borough they are having problems in. It’s Brooklyn’s loss. I just hope the person they put in here will be as open-door-policy and as hands-on as Susan Hinkson.” City Councilmember Letitia James also expressed disappointment with the shift. “I’m really upset about it,” she told this paper. “Commissioner Hinkson has been very responsive to my constituents and to my office. Every time there has been a major incident, not only did she send out inspectors, she herself came out. Unfortunately, as a result of criticism made of DOB as a whole, Brooklyn is going to lose the best commissioner in the city.” That the borough’s new commissioner be as “responsive” as Hinkson has been is key, James added. “We have got development on literally every other block, and we are trying to keep our eyes on all of it,” she stressed, noting that a major issue was, “The impact of development on the current inventory of Brooklyn,” a borough with many older structures. This is particularly important, James added, given the borough’s vastly increased development load. “Ten years ago,” James said, “there were 5,000 permits issued annually in the borough. Now, it’s something on the lines of 20,000. That’s a major, major difference.”

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