PORT RICHEY — On Jan. 10, Port Richey Mayor Dale Massad made an important introduction of a new employee to open that day's City Council meeting.
It was a long-awaited relief to the mayor that the city had hired a new building official, William Muse, who started with the city a day earlier at an annual salary of $70,000.
"First, I think we should introduce Bill Muse, our new building official. We have been waiting, and waiting, and waiting for," Massad said.
"Thank you, sir," Muse responded.
The city placed Muse's title on its web site as building official and three months later he made a presentation based on his 40 years experience as an architect regarding the state of the city's then-closed Limestone Fishing Pier. Muse said it could be fixed and reopened for around $8,000, contradicting an engineer's report from 2014 that said it would cost $170,000.
The council followed Muse's recommendation and reopened the pier May 15, but he would not end up being the person to sign the permits for the project as building official.
Instead, after the March meeting, state authorities came to City Hall to investigate Muse's work on behalf of the city. The reason? Muse is indeed a licensed architect, but he is not a licensed building official with the state of Florida. His application to become a "building code administrator'' is in progress, according to the state Department of Professional Regulation's website.
The state investigation is the result of a "disgruntled employee who decided to kick up dust," City Manager Vince Lupo told the Tampa Bay Times.
Muse, 74, an architect of 40 years, designed Port Richey's City Hall in 2001 during Lupo's previous tenure as city manager from 1996 to 2004. Lupo said he called Muse after receiving no applicants when the city advertised for a building official.
Lupo hired Muse as a plans examiner, a job which he can legally do as a licensed architect, with the idea that Muse would obtain his building official license. Meanwhile, the city is still contracting with a firm in Tampa, NOVA Engineering, using that company's licensed building official to sign off on permits. The city has paid NOVA a little more than $10,000 since hiring Muse. But that is peanuts compared to what the city would have to pay without the legwork Muse has been doing, Lupo said.
"For all intents and purposes in this building, he (Muse) represents the building department. But he works under the signature of the licensed building official Roger Sanders (of NOVA), and all of the documents say that," Lupo said.
And that is what the state found during its investigation, Lupo added. Officials with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation declined comment saying the agency does not discuss confidential investigations.
"To our knowledge there is no problem whatsoever. We are waiting for the official letter but once the examiner came in here and did his research and pulled all the files randomly there is no problem," Lupo said.
Port Richey's former building official William Golberg said he contacted the state regarding Muse's credentials. Goldberg was Port Richey's building official from 2012 to 2014 and served in that role when the city received the original engineer's report on the pier — the study Lupo and Muse later discounted.
Golberg now works in the private sector, and said the pair's plan to fix the pier in-house without an engineer greatly troubled him, as did his belief that the city was presenting Muse as a licensed building official.
"They were clearly holding him out as a building official and I have a problem with that. And when it came to the pier, it didn't appear to be safe to me at the time and any building official worth his salt is going to use an engineering firm. That is why I filed the complaint with the state. It had nothing to do with being disgruntled," Golberg said.
This is not the first time Lupo has dealt with building official issues in Port Richey. He was fired in 2004 after City Council discovered he had hired an unlicensed building official. At the time, Lupo said in a letter promoting interim Building Official Bette Farmerie, that the job offer came "after carefully reviewing both your credentials and your service.''
Both Farmerie and Lupo were out of work within two weeks. Lupo blamed his job loss on changing political winds after that spring's election. Port Richey rehired him last year.
Muse's title is now listed as plans examiner, not building official, on the city's website. Asked why he did not correct Massad when he introduced Muse as building official, Lupo called it "semantics." He said Muse has an impeccable record and the plan all along has been for him to eventually serve the city as building official, but instead he is mired in a lengthy state process of examinations.
"The fact of the matter is this city cannot be better served by a person than Mr. William Muse," he said. "We brought him on to become the chief building official and I was under the inclination that it was not going to take that long. And boy was I really wrong. So we made the changes appropriately."
Muse told the Tampa Bay Times his current role is his first government job and he is doing it because he enjoys the work and the community of Port Richey.
He said he didn't think it was an issue that city officials referred to him as building official for several months.
"I can't speak for what people think or say of me. I was just doing my job because I like what I do,'' said Muse. "I didn't think there was an issue there, I guess I should have."