Is it Relative or is it Pretend?

Click here for the full report:  Pretend Work: An Interim Report to The Tree Next Door
Credit: NASA

"Didn't get a chance to conduct that site inspection before the site plan was approved?  No problem, just get it done... whenever!"

Such is the attitude reflected in the work records of  Stan Domengeaux, an Atlanta field arborist who is still on the city payroll despite our repeated documentation of his failure to submit valid field notes and database entries.  In other words, try as we may, no one at The Tree Next Door can figure out what Domengeaux is doing on the taxpayer's dime.  Nor, as detailed in the investigative report released 1-5-11, WHEN it is getting done.  Does anyone in the Arborist Division know? The Bureau of Buildings?

Increasingly, the Arborist Division is beginning to resemble some renegade outpost in some far off galaxy where time has looped back on itself.  Think that sounds far-fetched?  Read on.

All building permit applications submitted in the City of Atlanta are supposed to be routed through the Arborist Division to check for compliance with the city's Tree Protection Ordinance before being approved. Many applications, particularly for small projects - interior renovations, porch additions, deck expansions - include a signed affidavit that no trees will be impacted by the planned construction.  If a site plan reviewer questions whether or not any trees will be impacted, he/she will request a "No Trees Impacted" (NTI) field inspection.  That field inspection, of course, must occur BEFORE the plan reviewer signs off on the site plan, not after.

But, third quarter 2010 records obtained from the City of Atlanta via an Open Records request show that time is a relative concept in the Arborist Division.

Domengeuaux' own field notes reveal that numerous NTI inspections occurred last summer up to almost five months AFTER the respective site plan was approved.  In some cases, the field inspection was conducted twice, and both times AFTER the building permit had already been approved by the Arborist Division.

Domengeuaux' database records also show that most of these inspections were never recorded in the database, as required.  Of the six inspections that were recorded in the database, all were conducted 2-3 months after the building permit was approved.  Not surprisingly, Domengeuaux found all six site plans to be "in compliance".  Of course, a site plan would most likely be in compliance months after the permit was approved.  By then, any trees that might have been destroyed by the construction would have been removed and any evidence of their having ever existed would be completely covered up.

Is this what the City of Atlanta's Bureau of Buildings intended when it "streamlined the permitting process"?  Is it now the role of the Arborist Division to approve permits "site unseen" and then come back to do the inspections when it's too late to protect the trees?  Stan Domengeaux' work records would certainly suggest so.

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