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Massena’s Code Enforcement Officer resigns

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MASSENA - The code enforcement officer for the village and town of Massena sent a letter to local officials this week announcing his plans to retire from his post at the end of his work day on Tuesday.

Code Enforcement Officer Gregory C. Fregoe, already retired from the village where he was the foreman of Massena’s career firefighters, said he made his decision to retire from local government after meeting with the village board in an executive session Tuesday night.

Mr. Fregoe declined to comment on the specifics of that meeting, but several sources have said the village board had been looking at reducing the code enforcement officer’s position from full-time to part-time and shifting more of the office’s duties to the career firefighters that are also trained in code enforcement.

“They discussed their plans for the code office with me. The plan of the village board for the future of code enforcement in Massena, and my plan for what I think the code office should be doing are not compatible. I’m taking advantage at this time to apply for my retirement and let the village move forward with its plan,” Mr. Fregoe said Friday.

His future with the village of Massena has been in limbo when the board of trustees did not reappoint him to his post at is annual reorganizational meeting in December. The board had discussed the position in executive session at its last two village board meetings.

Mr. Fregoe, while also working as a paid fireman for the village, had added hired to do fire inspections for the code office in 1985 and handled building inspections while working with then Code Enforcement Officer Eric Szarka from 1989-99, a time of growth in Massena with the construction of the St. Lawrence Centre mall and strip plaza, BJ’s and the initial Wal-Mart store.

He replaced Mr. Szarka in 1999 when then Mayor Ken MacDonnell appointed him to the code enforcement officer post. Mr. Fregoe retired as the career firefighters in 2002, took the Civil Service test and was appointed as a shared full-time code enforcement officer for the town and village that year.

Mr. Fregoe, whom colleagues have said had planned to retire from his post later this year before his reappointment became an issue, said he had opted to wait a few days after the village board meeting so he complete a couple of projects left on his desk.

“I wanted to see the Massena Electric project completed, and did a certificate of occupancy for them today. Frenchie’s will be completed on Monday,” he said.

He said the remaining major projects currently being monitored by the code office are the construction of Massena Memorial Hospital’s medical office complex, the renovation of the roof at the Alcoa casthouse that was heavily damage by fire and renovations to space at the St. Lawrence Centre mall that will house an expanded shoe store.

“The roof on the Alcoa casthouse is probably about 65 percent completed, and the hospital’s office building, which is supposed to be completed by mid-March, is probably at 80 percent,” he said.

Mr. Fregoe came under fire in July when he admitted he had erroneously granted Frenchie’s Chevrolet a building permit before they had attained the necessary variances for a renovation and expansion project at the East Orvis Street dealership.

He issued a stop work order in late July in response to a complaint from neighbors, including Mary C. Moran and Lois Guay, who both reside at 9 Burney Ave. in a home owned by Mrs. Guay’s son, Terry, along the border of the commercial and residential zones.

Given the location of the proposed addition, which fell within 30 feet of both the neighboring property lines and a residential district, a variance was needed. A second variance was also needed to allow commercial use in the residential area, specific to a driveway that would run along the rear of four other properties owned by Mr. Coupal.

Following the complaint from Ms. Moran, Mr. Fregoe said in July there was an investigation into the project and what it entailed.

“We investigated and found out that Frenchie had not applied for or received variances for his proposed construction,” Mr. Fregoe said at that time, adding the blame though lies with him, not Mr. Coupal.

“There’s no question about it. That’s my mistake,” he said. “The permit was issued in error.”

Mr. Fregoe explained that Mr. Coupal submitted plans for the project to him and was granted a building permit, giving him the go ahead to begin construction.

Some village board members had also expressed frustration in recent months that Mr. Fregoe had not been aggressive enough in dealing with code violations and substandard housing issues in the community.

Some members of the town planning board expressed surprise and disappointment Friday after learning Mr. Fregoe would be leaving his post.

“(Mr. Fregoe) has a lot of knowledge, and he’s been a great asset to the planning board and to the community,” planning board member Shawn Burke said. “I feel it’s going to be a loss to the village without him.”

Board member Kevin Fetterly said it was a “shock” to learn that Mr. Fregoe had sent in his letter of retirement.

“He’s done a lot of work for the village. He was very dedicated,” Mr. Fetterly said.

Mayor James F. Hidy, who commended Mr. Fregoe for his service, previously stated the village was considering the option of transferring Mr. Fregoe’s duties to firefighters trained in code enforcement. .

The village board held a special meeting to discuss Mr. Fregoe’s position Jan. 8, and held an executive session after its regular Jan. 15 meeting to discuss code office. At both those meetings the decision to reappoint Mr. Fregoe was tabled for later discussion.

When asked if the repeated discussions on the future of Mr. Fregoe’s position may have prompted his letter of retirement, Mr. Hidy said he “(didn’t) think so.”

After Wednesday, code enforcement in the village and town will be the responsibility of Massena firefighters trained in code enforcement.

Career firefighters Department Foreman Ken McGowan and fellow career firefighter Aaron Hardy completed New York state code enforcement training in early November. They join career firefighter Bill O’Brien, who had previously received the training.

Two additional firefighters, Jeremy Lefeve and Matt Tuper, are trained as code compliance technicians, and Walt Bean will finish this training later this month, Mr. McGowan said.

A code compliance technician is trained in enforcing the fire and property maintenance codes, but is not certified in other code enforcement officer duties, such as issuing building permits or inspecting new construction projects.

Mr. McGowan said he’d not been in discussions with village officials over the possibility of taking over Mr. Fregoe’s duties, but noted it was something they had been preparing for.

“We assumed we’d be taking over when (Mr. Fregoe) retired, but we’ve had no concrete talks” on taking over code enforcement, Mr. McGowan said previously.

Frefighters have been working on fire inspections for the code office in recent years, which requires them to inspect about 400 properties per year. Mr. Fregoe also said the code office handled 400 building permits last year.

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