Harry Simpson. Robert Thomas. Jermaine Allen. Berenices Suarez.
Remember their names. Those are the four people killed on March 6, 2015, in the fire on Jay Street in Schenectady.
It’s the thought of them that should spur the city to vigilantly make the necessary changes in its inspection process, regulations and laws, and in the overall procedures it uses to fill vital city positions and perform safety-related tasks.
Tuesday’s acquittal of former Schenectady building inspector Kenneth Tyree on criminal charges for his failure to conduct a proper inspection of one of the buildings involved in the fire might have gotten this one person off the hook.
But the verdict did nothing to acquit Tyree, Mayor Gary McCarthy, the City Council, and other city officials and employees who were directly or tangentially involved in the case of at least some culpability in these deaths.
The citizens expected the city to protect them. It didn’t.
While perhaps not directly responsible for the hiring of Tyree or other failures in this specific case, Mayor McCarthy and members of the City Council bear some responsibility for allowing the building inspection process in the city to get out of hand for so long, by not demanding a full account of buildings in need of inspection or of completed inspections, and allowing building owners to voluntarily submit their buildings for inspection.
If the mayor, as chief administrator of the city, and the City Council in its role as watchdog for the citizens, are going to get credit for new buildings going up in the city, they have to take responsibility when buildings inadequately inspected under their watch burn down.
And no, Tyree’s not off the hook, either, despite the jury’s verdict. Yes, perhaps he didn’t have the training necessary to inspect such a large building. Most ordinary people don’t know how to do CPR or stop a crime. But they do know how to call 911. The problems Tyree saw at 104 Jay St. should have raised red flags and compelled him to alert others to act.
We’re happy to see the city taking steps to address the problems like those that led to the Jay Street fire. We hope it follows up on its pledge to increase manpower, complete uncompleted inspections, change regulations regarding inspections and better monitor the inspection process. Time will tell.
Perhaps it would have been better for all those responsible had Tyree been convicted. Then all others with a role could have pointed at him and said, “A-ha! He’s the culprit. It was all his fault.”
But this verdict is the best possible outcome for city residents because it doesn’t allow others with a role to use one person as a scapegoat for the systemic problems in the city’s inspection process.
When the city fails in its public safety role, people can die. The best incentive to ensure it doesn’t happen again is to remember the names of the victims.