City building commissioner out; interim replacement named

Applicants in line at the city permitting center. (Jonathan Spiers)

A leadership shake-up at Richmond’s building inspections and permitting office has led to the appointment of an interim building commissioner who is already familiar with the role.

Ray Abbasi, the city’s operations manager, was named late last week as interim building commissioner, taking the place of previous Commissioner Doug Murrow, who is no longer a city employee.

City spokesman Tom Byrnes confirmed Abbasi’s appointment and Murrow’s departure, which the Times-Dispatch reported earlier in the week. Byrnes said he did not know the nature of Murrow’s departure and could not discuss it.

“It’s a strict city policy not to discuss personnel matters,” he said.

Murrow, whose responsibilities included overseeing the city permit center, had served as commissioner since April 2011. He previously worked 20 years in a similar role for James City County and as an architect before that, according to his LinkedIn page. He received a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Virginia Tech.

Attempts to reach Murrow for comment were unsuccessful.

Under Murrow’s watch, the permit center – in Room 110 at City Hall – became a source of complaints from developers and other observers who said permitting and inspection delays were adversely affecting the city’s development.

Complaints culminated a year ago and led to changes announced by Mayor Levar Stoney in November. The changes, including adjusted hours and office renovations, were aimed at improving operations and interactions with customers.

By March, Murrow reported that customer volume had risen and staff vacancies were down at the center, which had nearly twice as many visitors on two days in late February than its previous average.

The city also had allocated $500,000 for renovations to the center that were scheduled to start this fiscal year. The city also launched its EnerGov Citizen Self Service platform, which went live this year and was planned to roll out additional components this summer.

Overseeing that work for the time being will be Abbasi, who has served as interim building commissioner before, including a stint in 2010.

Abbasi will report to Doug Dunlap, deputy chief administrative officer with the city. Reached Friday, Abbasi deferred questions to Dunlap, who did not respond to a voicemail or email.

Byrnes did not have information on a search for a permanent replacement but said Abbasi could be considered for the job.

City Councilwoman Kim Gray, who has been critical of the city’s permitting and inspections performance, said she was not familiar with details surrounding Murrow’s departure. Last year, Gray called for a “full overhaul” of the permitting office, and the larger planning and development review department.

“I heard that he was leaving. I don’t know the specifics,” Gray said last week. “I think that there are structural and cultural challenges within City Hall that need to be addressed.”

The permit center was closed to the public Friday. A note on the door said the office was closed for “an organizational and employee work session day” and would reopen Monday, Aug. 20.

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