Plan To Let State Run Office Up For Hearing In Voorhees

Posted: May 13, 1990

The long-simmering debate over Voorhees' construction office will take center stage tomorrow at 8 p.m. when the Township Committee holds a public hearing on its plan to turn the office over to the state.

Citing bickering between the office's top two officials and concerns over the quality of inspections, township officials have asked the state Department of Community Affairs to take over inspections of all new construction on June 26.

If the ordinance is passed, the township would lay off construction official Robert J. Caruso and building inspector Charles Bogardus, who have been involved in a heated dispute over how the office should be run. Fire inspector Fredrick Myers, who is not involved in the dispute, also would be laid off.

Caruso, whom township officials have blamed for the office's problems, said construction fees would increase and the level of services would decrease if the township relinquished control. His family is distributing a petition urging the township to keep the office under its control.

The Township Committee tomorrow night also will hold a public hearing on a related ordinance that would transfer inspection of existing buildings from the construction office to the code enforcement office.

Mayor James L. Curran last week said the only way the township would not close the office would be if Caruso, whose license as construction official was revoked by the DCA in January, agreed to resign or retire.

"The problem will not go away, and I don't think the confidence will be restored in that department until Mr. Caruso steps down," Curran said.

Committeeman Gary E. Finger last week said he met with Caruso, who will turn 61 on the day the office is scheduled to close, to discuss a settlement - which could include Caruso's retirement.

But Caruso, who is appealing the DCA decision, last week said he would not step down unless he were ordered to by the state. "If I step down, it shows you're guilty of something. I don't have anything to hide. If I did something wrong and the state told me I did something wrong, I'll pay the consequences."

Township officials in September asked the DCA to investigate the office. The DCA found that Caruso violated a conflict-of-interest provision in the state construction code by working as a masonry contractor in Voorhees and in two adjacent communities while he was the construction official.

At the same time, DCA officials said, they referred information about Bogardus to the state Attorney General's Office, but they have not disclosed the nature of that investigation. That office has not taken any action against Bogardus.

Under state law, the township cannot fire or suspend a licensed inspector until the appeal process is exhausted. Since that process could drag on for several years, township officials said they had no choice but to close the office.

"There are two people in that department who have locked horns," Curran said. "They seem to be the root of the problem and have undermined confidence in the department, leading us to this. . . . Even though the township has hired them, they can't fire them."

Bogardus, whom township officials have supported during the investigation, said Caruso repeatedly had violated the state code to give builders a break.

"When a builder submits a set of blueprints and says he's going to build them according to these blueprints, and then proceeds to delete and omit, you're not giving the people what they're paying for," Bogardus said.

Caruso insists that the office is being run properly. "There are no problems in the office," he said. "We're here to serve the public, and we'll continue to serve them in the best way we possibly can."

Stuart Friedman, president of the township Democratic Club and a candidate for the Township Committee, said the township should have found a way to mediate a solution between Caruso and Bogardus.

"It's a continual sign that the administration has not been on top of their responsibility to run the whole government," Friedman said.

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