Volume 37, Issue 4, April 2002


I'm OK … But You're An Idiot!!!
        My First Experience with Building Inspectors
by Lyle R. Hill

His uniform was clean and crisp. His shoes perfectly polished. And in spite of the fact that his uniform was clearly marked as being that of the Chicago Police Department, he somehow had the bearing of someone of even greater authority … of even more importance.

He was older than me … maybe by as much as 12 to 15 years. The name engraved upon his brightly polished chrome nameplate was Dubin … Sergeant J. Dubin. He looked me squarely in the eyes as he spoke.

"I understand that you are now the person in charge—the general manager of the place. Is that correct?"

I hadn't wanted the job. I actually was quite content in my former position as manager of the contract glazing department at the city's oldest and perhaps best-known glass company. However, an unusual series of events had thrust me into the position of general manager at the ripe old age of 28. I knew that I wasn't qualified for the position, but I'd been assured that if I held the place together until someone who was qualified could be recruited and hired, I would get my old job back … with a raise.

"Yes, I'm the acting general manager," I replied. "What can I do for you?"

"Well," Officer Dubin began, "I'm used to dealing with Mr. Barrish. What's become of him?"

I didn't want to tell him the truth … that Barrish and a few others had been fired for excessive violations of the eighth commandment … so I violated the ninth.

"He accepted a better position with another company. I think out west somewhere."

Dubin stared at me with a puzzled look on his face.

"OK," he finally said, "did Barrish tell you anything about me before he left … about my annual building inspections?"

"No, not really," I answered. "But I didn't think the police department handled building inspections. I thought the city had a team of building inspectors for that work."

He cocked his head ever so slightly to the right and stared up and down at me.

"Well, you see … listen, what did you say your name was?"

"Hill," I responded.

"Yeah, OK … well you see, Hill, before I got on the force I worked for the building department and that's when I first started checking out your facility here. And let me tell you right now, this place has a lot of serious problems. Some very big code violations … and safety hazards galore. Mr. Barrish knew all about them."

"I don't remember finding anything in his files about these violations and hazards," I meekly replied, not wanting to stir up Officer Dubin's ire. "Could you maybe get me copies of your reports so I could start working on correcting some of these problems?"

"Are you serious?" he asked, as his stare slowly—but most assuredly—became a glare.

"Yes, of course," I answered.

"Do you realize that the cost of correcting your sprinkler system alone could be $5,000 or more?" he demanded with his voice now much louder than it had been.

"But what choice do I have, Officer Dubin? If it needs correcting, then I've got to get it corrected … right?"

The stare that had turned to a glare now turned to something else. I could see a trickle of sweat working its way down his left temple and his right eyebrow was twitching uncontrollably.

"Are you playing with me, Hill?" he demanded, as his face grew redder still.

"Of course not, Officer Dubin. Why would I want to do that?"

He spoke not a word but continued to stare at me with a bewildered look on his face.

"Officer Dubin … are you OK?"

"I'm OK … but you're an idiot!" he shouted as he spun on his heels and walked out of my office.

Three days later two very competent and eager gentlemen visited me from the building department. They told me that Officer Dubin had sent them. They spent the better part of the day wandering through our facility and about ten days after this visit, they stopped by in person to go over their official report. They were decent enough-just a couple of guys doing what they were told to do. We had a very informative, yet unofficial, meeting, too-one of those rare conversations where someone actually tells you the way things really work and who has the final say. I found out a lot about Dubin, too … where his connections came from and just how much of what people from Chicago call clout he really had. The cost of correcting the problems they so meticulously pointed out ultimately came to more than $11,000. They were also kind enough to point out to me that for a couple hundred dollars or so in a plain envelope discreetly handed over to Officer Dubin, all of their hard work could have been avoided. I also came to learn that I was but one of many people on Officer Dubin's list. I was more than a little upset by all of this, and I had wanted to do something about it. I wanted to protest to someone … to file a formal complaint … to right this wrong. But in the end, whether out of fear or lack of commitment, I just let it go. I did nothing.

Over the years, I watched that officer who called me an idiot one late November afternoon so many years ago climbed through the ranks of the force. He ultimately reached a very high politically-connected position and could be seen in the newspapers regularly and on TV giving speeches and handing out citations. He ultimately retired with all kinds of commendations and accolades. This troubled me greatly. If I knew what he was, others must have, too, and in his position of public trust, his deeds were all the more distasteful. It also bothered me that I had never spoken out … never called his superiors to complain … to make him come clean. I always rationalized my way out of it by telling myself that any complaint I might register would simply fall on deaf ears anyway, and that in the long run, the only one that would suffer would be me. But this was long ago and over time, he was more or less erased from my memory.

I picked up the local newspaper the other day and there on the front page was my old pal Dubin … coming out of a Federal Court where he had just been sentenced to 20 years for more dastardly deeds than I could have imagined. It took a long time, but justice had finally caught up with him. I had mixed feelings about this. This person who had tarnished the reputation of all those who wore the same uniform and worked so hard as true public servants was finally being brought to justice. Yet at the same time, I felt more than a twinge of sadness because I had never made any attempt whatsoever to turn him in or correct the problem. Dubin wasn't the only person who ever attempted to shake me down or squeeze money out of me in some illegal or unethical scheme over the years. But somehow, maybe because he rose to such a high and trusted position, his situation always bothered me. Maybe … in the final analysis, we were both deserving of the idiot title. Him for what he did … and me for what I didn't.


Lyle R. Hill is president of MTH Industries of Chicago.     lyle@glass.com

Hey Glass Guys!
I've been conducting my own polls and scientific research about this question, but want your input too ... because I've heard many different answers. So once and for all, how many glass guys does it take to change a light bulb? Tell me how many and why and if you're right, your answer will be published in my column in a future issue. Just e-mail lyle@glass.com with your answer.


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