Businessman wonders if code inspection targeted him

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Neil Johnson
Monday, June 30, 2014

JANESVILLE—A businessman wonders if his public opposition to a proposed fire station in Janesville prompted a fire code inspection just four months after the city last inspected his property.

Chad Karl, who runs the financial planning firm Chad Karl & Associates, said the Janesville Fire Department showed up Friday to inspect his office at 33 E. Racine St.

It was the second time this year he's been inspected.

He said the city fire marshal and city code officers slapped him Friday with five warning citations for fire and building code violations.

The code check came just a few days after Karl said he posted a Facebook message and sent an email to 300 clients that criticized the city's plan to build a $9.5 million fire station on Milton Avenue.

Karl said the posting and email announced that he is helping get signatures for two petitions that resident Billy McCoy is circulating to halt construction of the new fire station, which would replace Fire Station No. 1 along Milton Avenue.

Karl said his email made clear that, like McCoy, he opposes the new fire station plan because he doesn't like its proposed cost or location and because the city council discussed the bulk of the plan in closed session.

He wonders if the city used a code check to target him for his opposition.

“The timing was so coincidental that I find it fascinating. I post a Facebook message and send out an email on Monday. By Friday, I have people showing up for my second fire inspection this year. It seems … a little bit too coincidental,” Karl said.

Karl's office had a fire code check Feb. 20, he said. Karl said the February check—and more than a dozen prior checks of his office over the last several years— turned up no code violations.

“It makes me wonder, 'Am I being targeted?' Either that, or there have been a lot of inconsistencies over the last 15 or 18 checks I've had over nine years.”

Karl wonders why the city needed to check his property a second time this year when, under a city ordinance approved last year, the fire department now does general fire code inspections for businesses just once annually.

“If I'm required to do more than other people, that's kind of odd,” he said.

Fire Chief Jim Jensen said he was unaware of Karl's stance on the fire station, and he  “vehemently denies” the fire department would use fire code inspections to target someone.

“We absolutely do not target or single out anyone for their statements or for any other reason,” Jensen said. 

He offered an explanation for two code checks in one year: The department's code inspecting staff is “lean,” and it missed Karl's annual check in 2013.

He said the February check was a “makeup” for the missed inspection, and the check last week was actually Karl's 2014 inspection.

Jensen wasn't sure why the inspection in February didn't turn up violations at Karl's office, which he said mainly included electrical and ventilation problems in an attached furnace room.

He said most of the violations stemmed from “unapproved” upgrades.

Jensen said he wasn't sure if those upgrades came before or after the February inspection or whether the fire department had checked the building's furnace room before last week.   

He indicated the bulk of Karl's violations have been referred for corrective action to code enforcement at the city's building and development services department.

Karl said he's been given between five and 30 days to fix the violations.

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