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Rising from Ruin is an on-going MSNBC.com special report chronicling two coastal Mississippi towns, Bay St. Louis and Waveland, as they rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

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BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. — He’s aggravating, infuriating, loud and intimidating, by nearly all accounts. And, as Bay St. Louis tries to get back on its feet, he’s arguably the most powerful person in town. Meet Bill Carrigee, chief building inspector.

Few dispute that Carrigee knows his business. He’s been working in the building department here for more than 13 years, and in the construction business for 30. He is sought out by other departments in the state to interpret building code and teach classes on the subject.

But now the man known before Hurricane Katrina to be detail oriented — to put a positive spin on it — has final say on hundreds of projects at once. His tiny staff is stretched to the breaking point. Residents and builders say Carrigee subjects many projects to a long series of niggling inspections. If he was controversial before, he is now a lightening rod for frustration at the slow pace of recovery.

“You can pick an inspection to death, and the inspection is never over,” says one builder who asked not to be named. “He can make your life absolutely miserable.”

Carrigee, a towering man with a booming voice, is well aware that he has a reputation, but he insists that his goal is to see that projects adhere to the intent of the building code, especially where safety is concerned.

“It's just human nature,” he says. “People are frustrated. They don’t want to be told what to do with their houses. Compound it by they’ve lost everything. They’re making mistakes they may not have otherwise.”

One big problem, he says, is that in their rush to rebuild, people get permits themselves, and then hire contractors who are not licensed to work in the area. If there’s a rip-off or a problem with the work, he says, the contractor can’t be held accountable unless the permit is under their name.

At the mention of the large number of volunteers involved in the building process, Carrigee heaves a big sigh. In one case, he says volunteers came through and put up sheetrock on five houses before his department had signed off on the wiring. The group, which he declined to name, didn’t want to remove the sheetrock. He refused to sign off on the electrical work without seeing it, and the project still remained in limbo this week.

Carrigee’s manner often takes newcomers and locals inexperienced in building by surprise. One local woman says her first meeting with him left her in tears.

Support from mayor, council

The City Council and Mayor Eddie Favre are used to getting an earful on Carrigee, but they still support him.

“He’s extremely knowledgeable,” says Favre, who agrees that people do find Carrigee “big and intimidating.”

“We’re trying to open it up to allow as many folks as possible to help our people get their houses together ... but it’s still our responsibility to make sure the work is to code,” says Favre.

An article in the Sun Herald of Gulfport on Sunday highlighted the swirl of emotion surrounding Carrigee. It quoted Carrigee as saying an unnamed woman marched into his office two months ago demanding a permit and threatening, if he did not provide one, to reveal a dark secret — a felony conviction for aggravated burglary committed as a young man.

According to the article, Carrigee said the woman wanted him to “look the other way while she built a home that did not meet codes.” When he refused to bow to the threat, it said, she went public with his conviction, which resulted in a brief stint in Louisiana’s notorious Angola State Penitentiary at the age of 18 before being pardoned by the governor shortly thereafter.

Carrigee's criminal history was not actually news to many in the town, however, including Mayor Favre who restated his support for the controversial city employee.

'Make him think it is his idea'

Most longtime residents and local builders in Bay St. Louis know better than to be go head to head with the Carrigee.

“You have to make him think it is his idea or he’s going to make your life miserable,” says one longtime resident.

“If he meets you and he likes you … you’re kind of treated one way and there are faster ways of doing things,” says a commercial builder.

For Carrigee, the key difference is one of intent and attitude.

“You walk through the door and you want to do it right, I’m your best friend,” he says. “You walk through the door with an attitude, I can have an attitude too.”

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90 COMMENTS

Aaaahhhh, the public servant with attitude. How nice!!!! Things in the Bay will never change.

Bureaucracy is its own reward

Why not bring in some qualified inspectors from other less busy cites to help with the backlog. The backlog is only temporary. If they are qualified, they can appove the work without Carrigee's personal approval. I do side with Carrigee on the safty issue but he is a public servent and should be held accountable for behaivor/attitude with his Boss aka the public tax payer. The sooner houses are built, the sooner the tax payers get let off the hook for recovery and aid etc.

I know the area is devastate, but it;s good there is a "Watchdog" so to speak for issues like this. If thre wasn't in 5-10 years when houses are falling down, people would say, "well THEY approved it..If it wasn't safe, THEY shouldn't have approved it". Can't win for losing.. Let the man do his job.:-)

Maybe he can keep things from going wrong like happened here in Jackson County ... a couple built a $250K home ... they went through all the hoops, building permits, inspections, etc. Then came the last inspection to get the utilities turned on so they could move in. GASP ... Someone forgot to tell them their house had to be raised 4 feet! No one bothered to mention this throughout the entire building process! Now they have a $250K concrete home they can't live in because someone in the county scr*wed up! Maybe a Bill Carrigee is needed throughout the coast!

who are they gonna cry to first when their building falls down with the first lil breeze?

The best bet with all inspectors is to get to them early, telling them what you are intending to do and asking for input. The worst way is to tell them what you have already done [or begun] and asking for a retroactive OK.

A house was bought "as is" in my neighborhood. The people who purchased this house had come down to help with recovery (religious group). They decided this would be a good place to buy. I'm almost sure that this work is being done without the proper permits. I have wondered if a lot of this construction is being done properly and won't come back to haunt us at a later date.

I built a couple of restaurants in N.O. back in the late 70s. "Inspections" were a hoot ! Fortunately my foreman was from LA and understood the procedure.

Keep in mind that these were restaurants! Once a plumbing inspector showed up. My foreman slipped him $50, said, "Let me buy you lunch." The inspector never entered the building and signed the inspection sheet in the parking lot.

Now, the other property. We were ready to open for business and the electrical inspector walked in, inspected NOTHING and proceeds to tell us that the project is shut down til futher notice and for EVERYONE to vacate the premises. My foreman picked up the phone and called "someone" that was out at the race track. He explained what had happened and the inspector was back within the hour, apologizing for the misunderstanding. He signs off on our final inspection and leaves, NEVER having looked at the electrical system.

Corruption ? You think ?

Quit your complaining and do what you need to do in the first place and you wouldn't have these problems.

From the Sun-Herald article from this past weekend: "Carrigee, 51, has become one of the most decorated building officials in Mississippi, with several dozen accreditations from the International Code Council and other state and national agencies. He is the 59th person in the nation certified as a floodplain manager." Does he have an attitude? Maybe. Does he know what he's doing? Absolutely.

If he lets the people do this work without the proper inspections and approvals, when the next storm rolls through and the house gets damaged or destroyed again the they will point the finger at him, saying he let substandard construction pass inspection. Do it right or do not do it at all. Follow the law. I for one applaud this inspector for doing his job right.

It’s great that Mr. Carrigee has been working for the city for 13 years and has 30 years of construction experience. However, these people are building homes not skyscrapers. As an Architect, Details / Construction from home to home are basically the same. Your right, home owners do not want to be told what to do with there homes. That’s why Mr. Carrigee should concentrate not on the design of the homes, but the bigger details and make sure that proper / typical details are shown and carried through such as hurricane strapping which is a general detail that all town and city’s require to have on your drawings to be approved for a building permit.

I'm a commercial construction superintendent and I've dealt with inspectors like Carrigee. A few of the charicteristics they seem to share are arrogance and lack of common sence.
When you deal with city or county building inspectors who like to use their authourity accountability will be non existant. So if your house falls down guys like Carrigee or any other inspector will absorb zero accountability. Same holds true if your house is built 4' too low.
That responsibility is between the homeowner and the contractors, mostly the homeowner. It's the homeowner's responsibility to understand the details of their project. That's why most people hire general contractors so they are dealing with one person instead of ten plus contractors.
From what I got out of this article it sounds like Carrigee likes to use his authority and if he is dealing with someone that let's him ignore common sense and doing the obvious right thing he'll take advantage of it.
My advice to those of you who end up dealing with someone like him is to shove the burden of any accountability at his door step as much as you can. Two things an arrogant beaurcrat fears are work and accountability. If you can push any accountability at them it will create work for them that is your best chance of getting them off your back.
Currently I'm dealing with the City of Burnsville in MN and they have been great to work with. So there are good local government people to deal with out there and I hope there numbers increase especially where storms have created extensive damage.
Bottom line if a building inspector is using his authority, especially in America's storm damaged areas, to make your life miserable simply because he can he amounts to nothing more than un American scum and he should be treated as such. If you go down the road of appeasement with someone like that it will only get worse. I have been there.

the bottom line is the mayor is sending a man who went to prison for felony burglary into our homes and businesses. Yeah, he has a bad attitude and is proud of it. this guy is a public menace not a public servant!

The more laws we impose on people, the more everyone will resent the local and state governments. Most of the building departments I have worked with are slow, unorganized, and a typical power hungry government organization/bureaucracy. In a Katrina like situation, I personally would just build no matter what anyone said. I would do it myself and punch every inspector and government official in the face for the disgraceful way they handled the entire situation in that area. You would have to shoot me before I would stop working on my home and my land. That inspector would find his life very difficult with me in his town. (Ask the building department in Lake County IL. I am known by name there.) In that situation everyone must work fast and together to take on a project, and push everyone and everything out of the way to get it done. I set my own standards and do it better than a uneducated inspector from off the street. Get government out of peoples lives, who are you to tell me how build my home and to help my family?

that man ain't 18 no more, forgive the past....do any of ya'll have a past?...he's doing his job, that's all...BUILD IT RIGHT!!!!.....sh** go to Tennessee if you want a hardnosed inspecter

There are thousnds of old construction workers out there that cant do the heavy work for many good reasons, plumbers,electrians, carpenters etc. and are not working. Go to the business agent at your Union locale. Get some union trained people. Many cities use them for Inspectors. and they are not smart allecs.Their facilitators.

If you live in a hurricane zone, like we do, be thankful, very thankful for building codes that and inspectors who value peoples and their property. many many think men like this are a pain in the backside but remember, buildings they inspect could and will cause people to die if they are not to code!!! Stop complaining and feel greatful for having someone who wants to save lives and properties!!!!

Sounds like Mr Carrigee is doing his job like he's supposed to. Seems to me the only people who have an issue with him are the ones doing shoddy work. And lets face it, with so many contractors doing so much construction for so many people, some of the work is going to be of dubious quality at best. Sacrificing expediency for quality is foolish and helps no one in the long run. The last thing people need is a building inspector signing off on substandard work on these new homes and having their houses catch fire from uninspected wiring, or cracks in their new foundation, or the plumbing backing up into their house.

This guy with all of his high and mighty praises just sounds like someone who is from the south and abuses his position and authority to the fullest. Political leaders are scared to say anything, for fear of losing federal subsities due to this meglomaniac's idea of right and wrong.
David P. Wetter
US Army Retired
Seen this behavior all too often in the military!

I have worked in the construction industry from New York to CA, for 35 years. I have dealt with scores of different public and private trade inspectors during that time. Bill Carrigee seems to have the same goal as almost every inspector I have dealt with,i.e., facilitating projects with a minimum standard of quality tradecraft. This is the purpose of an inspector. He grades the work according to rules developed by an independent body of non-government professionals. The rules are not arbitrary, personal, or agenda driven spite. The rules are scientifically developed, empirically proven, minimum standards of material and craft competence required to construct a safe and saleable product, whether it is residential, commercial, or industrial.

The projects Mr. Carrigee inspects are subject to out of the ordinary climatic, soil and water conditions. Contractors and homeowners might expect to deal with additional stringencies in regard to these items. (Katrina).

Bill Carrigee is probably too busy to veer from the book, if he were so inclined. He umpires the game, give him some respect and you probably will not be ejected or penalized for poor sportsmanship. Don't head butt the inspector, please.

No, I don't have a past of wilfull heinous criminality of felony burglary of someone's home; that crime should disqualify one from being sent into peoples' homes! Forgiving is one thing, encouraging recidivism is another! Arrogant convicted felon - not my idea of a public servant!
By the way, I haven't had any encounters with his majesty, Inspector Bill.

Can't one do an excellent job and still be a nice man. Why do these two qualities have to be mutually exclusive, as in this man's case?

I am an inspector for local govt., myself. Let's face it, if you're a nice guy... people will call you a pushover. You have to respect a man for his knowledge...his personality gives him style.

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