Liverpool officials spar over housing inspection

EAST LIVERPOOL – A letter he received from Planning Director William Cowan raised the ire of City Councilman Ray Perorazio, who addressed the letter at this week’s council session.

During a previous council meeting, Cowan had come under fire from First Avenue resident Lori Pittenger, who called the planning director “utterly worthless” after he failed to immediately have a vacant house next to hers inspected when she called him to do so.

At that meeting, Perorazio agreed with Pittenger about Cowan’s office, saying the matter “should have been taken care of right then and there.”

However, in a subsequent letter to Perorazio just a day after the council session, Cowan explained the series of events regarding Pittenger’s call.

Cowan outlined calling Pittenger back at 9:30 a.m., advising her that his department could not legally enter the property even though she had said the door had been left open by the tenant who had moved out.

He also explained to her that the inspector already had appointments scheduled for the day, but that he would send the rental inspector to the residence to post a notice on the door advising the owner it could not be rented until an inspection was performed.

According to Cowan’s letter, shortly after he spoke to Pittenger that day, Perorazio called inquiring about the house and was given the same information, noting the rental inspector posted the notice at 10:15 a.m.

Although Pittenger again called to advise the previous tenant was back and would let the inspector in, Cowan wrote, he reiterated that the inspector was already handling appointments, the notice had been posted and the owner would be contacted.

Cowan called the owner shortly thereafter and advised him the home could not be rented until certain steps were taken.

At 11:30 a.m. that morning, Perorazio again called Cowan and asked that the inspector show up at the house, at which time Cowan reiterated his earlier comments and advised the councilman arrangements had been made with the owner to take care of the issues.

“Even though you were made fully aware of the events of the day regarding (that residence), you still chose to lash out at me personally at a public meeting, as well as other planning department employees,” Cowan chastised Perorazio in his letter.

He continued, “What was unacceptable? Should we have illegally entered the property, should our rental inspector have disregarded his other obligations to satisfy you and Ms. Pittenger, should we now start screening prospective tenants?”

Cowan told Perorazio in the letter that his comments “cast a dark cloud over the city” and “only helps to enforce a negative perception of the city overall.”

During this week’s meeting, Perorazio said he has been working with the law director and planning department to “try and run a tighter ship” on rental properties.

Saying he wasn’t “taking potshots at anyone,” Perorazio reiterated that the inspector could have taken a look at the house that day, saying, “I went and looked three times.”

He referred to a previous complaint on a Mapletree Street house that he was told by the planning department a year ago met minimum regulations but said, “That house is worse now than it was then.”

Perorazio said council is “like a board of directors” and is supposed to tell the planning department when to do things but did concede the department is short-handed and that ordinances need revamped to help make Cowan’s job easier.

Nonetheless, Perorazio said, “Unless you’re an elected official, don’t send me any letters. I’m gonna do what I think I should do.”

Cowan was not present at Monday’s meeting, and council did not comment on Perorazio’s remarks.

Councilman Sherrie Curtis has said, however, that council rules prohibit personal remarks about any other person by name and suggested the rules committee look at whether or not that reminder should be read prior to public comments.