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By CHARLES RICHARDS
The city official at the center of a long-standing complaint that the City of Paris was “unfriendly” to contractors and small business owners has resigned and taken a job in another city.
Assistant Building Official Jeanna Scott’s last day was Friday, Dec. 21, city manager John Godwin told eParisExtra.com.
“She’s got a new job in Arlington with basically the same duties that she had for the City of Paris,” Godwin said. “Her grandkids, her kids live over there, so we will be close to them.”
“We have hired a new person already, from outside,” Godwin said. Joey Sleeper, 44, the senior plans examiner for the City of McKinney, will become Building Official for the City of Paris in about mid-January.
Sleeper “has got about 20 years of experience, a lot of certifications,” Godwin said.
Although Sleeper has been working in McKinney, he and his wife, Paris native Michelle Dennis Sleeper, live in Paris and they own a building on the west side of the Plaza where at one time she operated “Michelle’s Craft Shop.”
Sleeper has been commuting to his work in McKinney.
“After Jeanna told me she was leaving, we started searching for what would be the best fit,” said Shawn Napier, Director of Engineering, Planning & Development for the City of Paris.
“Since I knew Joey lived here, I called him and he was very interested,” said Napier, who worked with Sleeper at the City of Garland for a couple of years between 1995 and 1998. “We went ahead and posted the position, and he was really the only one who applied.”
Godwin said dealing with building permits in a business-friendly manner is something he and Napier talked about in seeking a new building official.
“Nothing against Jeanna, she worked super-hard and was very conscientious and didn’t deserve the reputation she got,” Godwin said.
“But this is an opportunity for us to get someone in here fresh and new, so let’s make sure whoever we get understands the value of customer service and so forth,” the manager said.
“Of course, he comes from McKinney, a super-fast growing place. He’s used to stress and people wanting things right away and that kind of thing,” Godwin said.
“Joey was telling me they have around 25 people in their building inspections and planning department,” Napier said. “That’s quite a difference with Paris. Jeanna and I were pretty much it.”
Scott was “assistant” building official; Sleeper’s title will be simply “Building Official.”
“He’s got quite a list of certifications, an impressive list,” Napier said. “He’s coming in here with more certifications and licenses than Jeanna had, for sure., and he can also do inspections, like Robert Smith. He’ll definitely help us out.”
Sleeper holds a bachelor’s of science degree in construction engineering technology from Texas A&M-Commerce.
He is also a certified building official through the Council of American Building Officials, a Certified Plans Examiner, Building Inspector, Plumbing Inspector, Mechanical Inspector, Electrical Inspector, and Building Code Usability/Accessibility specialist through the International Conference of Building Officials.
After hearing a steady barrage of complaints early last year about how “business unfriendly” the City of Paris permitting staff was, Paris mayor AJ Hashmi arranged a meeting for contractors, small business owners and others to air their complaints.
People agreed to come only after the mayor promised that he and city councilman Edwin Pickle would be the only city officials present. The complainants said they feared reprisal from city staff.
“The biggest complaint,” the mayor said after the meeting with a roomful of people, “was that the City of Paris is unfriendly. Everyone had a complaint about (the person who processes the building permits).
“With her, it’s either black or white,” a contractor said of Scott. “There’s no gray area with her, no in between. There has to be some latitude, so they could come to a common sense solution.”
The contractor continued: “For 40 years, I drew my own house plans, but now I have to go hire somebody because I don’t have any sense. You got a lady up there reviewing decisions. If somebody is going to review it, I’d prefer someone qualified.”
Another person complained: “The permits are hard to get. I can understand why all these business people don’t want all this. Why are we not trying to make Paris grow? Why? Why?”
Mayor Hashmi responded: “The purpose of this meeting is to do that. We are going to try. Please don’t expect it to happen in six months. Give it some time. Now that you’ve told us, give us some time to address them. Hopefully, we’ll get some solutions.”
Napier said the new buildings official “is aware of the situation.”
“He read about it all as it was happening,” Napier said.
Part of the problem is that Paris went to a new international fire code and building code with new requirements, Napier said.
“He is going to help us out, no question about it,” Napier added.
“He knows the codes. He could quote them to you. He’s very familiar with the codes, whether residential or business. One of the things that’s going to help us out is he’s familiar with the inspection side of it. He’s licensed and certified to do every bit of it. He can do a lot of things that we’ve had to hire Bureau Veritas to do – some of the commercial inspections.”
Godwin said he is impressed with Sleeper’s credentials.
“He’s got so much knowledge and experience, and that really helps. That helps you provide good customer service if you’re really confident and competent, and know your stuff really well. Again, nothing against Jeanna. She had been doing it for only a couple of years.”