Investigative Report: Alarming Failure Part VI
Updated: Monday, September 9 2013, 04:06 PM EDT
A News 13 investigation into safety issues at Buncombe County schools has now sparked a state investigation. Meanwhile, county officials have already found serious electrical issues and have decided to inspect every school in the district. A whistleblower claims supervisors told workers not to pull permits or inspect jobs for electrical and fire safety issues for years and now we're also learning this could end up costing taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars.
Greg Fox is the Director of Maintenance for the Buncombe County School District. He and his electrical supervisor, Scott Emory, are now the focus of an investigation into why critical safety work wasn't permitted or inspected for years. A retired school electrician, John Payne, blew the whistle saying his supervisor told him and other workers not to pull permits. Payne contends, "I said are you going to get this inspected and he said, 'no'.”
These claims are backed up by several contractors. Christopher Ashe is an electrical contractor who worked with the district for 8 years. Ashe tells us, “They said no, don't worry about permits. Scott Emory said that, that was their protocol."
We asked Fox about those allegations. He said, “I would have to talk to Scott Emory and you would have to ask him that question, I wasn't there don't know what Mr. Emory had told this individual." Fox maintains he was not aware of these allegations stating, "Absolutely not."
Now North Carolina's Board of Examiners of Electrical Contractors will investigate who's telling the truth. State officials watched our reports online and on Wednesday launched investigations into both Fox and Emory. Among the issues they'll investigate: whether Emory or Fox 'engaged in malpractice or gross negligence’.
One thing we know for sure, the county will now have to inspect every school in the district. Matt Stone is director of Buncombe County's Department of Permits and Inspections. Stone admits if News 13 had not brought these issues to his attention he wouldn't have known about them. Stone says, "Yes, probably not, it definitely forced us to put a plan together that we felt was the most immediate way to address it."
A few weeks ago, we gave Stone dozens of work orders for electrical jobs done by district workers without the required permits and inspections. Stone has since ordered the district to pull those permits, his inspectors will then check those jobs to determine if there is any work that would have to be brought up to code. Stone has already found serious problems, one involving an electrical panel at Pisgah Elementary. Stone tells us, "You have to have proper working clearance in front of that panel and where this one was installed, on that work order that you gave us, it was not installed correctly so we made them move it to the outside wall."
Stone found another problem involving overloaded breakers at Estes Elementary. Stone explains, "It's made to trip and you don't want a situation where it could heat up to a point where it wouldn't trip, so it's a potential fire hazard."
Because of this, Stone has launched a district-wide investigation, checking electrical and fire safety issues at all 40 schools. At TC Roberson High 6 inspectors will be checking work in the next couple of days and since they charge $75 per hour, per inspector, that's a hefty bill for taxpayers.
News 13 investigative reporter Mike Mason asked Stone, "This is certainly costing taxpayers more money than it would if things were done properly the first time around?" Stone replied, "Yes."
Stone can't say how long these inspections will take but he admits they could cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars and that number doesn't include any of the work done by the school district.
By: Mike Mason
Follow Mike on Twitter @mikemason1