FRAMINGHAM, MA- Starting in 2008, George Lewis, (a Town Meeting Member for Precinct 18), started making inquiries at the Town's Building Department about properties in his neighborhood that appeared to be in violation of certain Framingham bylaws.
George felt his property values and the quality of life in his South Framingham neighborhood near Waushakum Pond were in decline.
Inspecting the alleged bylaw and building code violations is something Framingham Building Commissioner and Director of Inspectional Services Mike Foley should have done in the normal course of his duties.
Instead of thanking Mr. Lewis for taking his own personal time to alert Foley about the violations, Foley instead became belligerent and told Lewis he didn't have the time or manpower to follow up on the complaints.
In one instance Lewis complained that contractors doing work on Gilbert St. had gutted a building and left it unattended with a missing window and the door left open, and that the floors had holes in them. Lewis was concerned that children in the neighborhood could get into the building and possibly be injured falling through the floor.
According to Lewis, when he spoke to Mike Foley about the issue, Foley said, "What do you want me to do, go over there and board up the place myself?" Lewis claims he asked the Building Inspector to take whatever legal action he could -- possibly placing a lock on the door and notifying the owner of the sub-standard condition of the property. Lewis claims that Foley told him he couldn't, that "The bank will sue the Town if I do that".
Getting no action from Foley for what Lewis considered a public safety issue drove Lewis to complain to Selectman and Town Counsel about Foley's responses.
Lewis then went on to complain that other properties in his neighborhood were in violation of building code and Town bylaws including; overcrowding in one property that had been illegally converted from a single family to a 4-family residence; large numbers of commercial vehicles parked on the street and in the driveway of another residence, (Framingham bylaws only permit one commercial vehicle to park overnight at a residential property), and formally requested information about inspections from Foley.
Lewis got no response and no action from Foley.
Earlier this year, (in April of 2011), Building Department staff informed Lewis that Foley had instructed them that Lewis was not permitted to enter the Building Department Office and that they were not to speak to Lewis or provide him with any information or public records.
Several months went by and on one occasion Lewis did go to the Building Department Office and asked Foley if they could speak. Foley invited Lewis into his private back-office and Lewis asked if he would would be permitted to get the information he was seeking. Lewis claims Foley repeated that Lewis was not permitted to discuss issues with his staff and would not be provided with any public records or other information.
Lewis reminded Foley that he is a resident and a Town Meeting Member and has the right and "duty" to request public information. Lewis then related his concern that he believed Foley had been making derogatory comments about him to Lewis' neighbors and others. Lewis then commented that it appears Foley does not show up for work on Fridays. At this point the discussion became heated and Foley began swearing and verbally threatened Lewis in front of Building Department staff, Foley telling Lewis, "Get out of my office or I'll pick you up and throw you out."
Lewis is a 5' 4" tall, 150 pound, 68 year old retiree.
It appears that there are others who don't like Foley, as someone either inside the Memorial Building, or someone Lewis had spoken with called the WBZ-TV4 "I-Team" and asked that they investigate Foley.
What the I-Team uncovered was more than Lewis even suspected.
Following a two month investigation, WBZ-TV "I-Team" investigative reporter Joe Shortsleeve produced a segment regarding allegations of official misconduct against Framingham Building Commissioner and Director of Inspectional Services Mike Foley.
For his report, Shortsleeve followed Foley on several days, looked into Building Department records, and interviewed several people.
Shortsleeve also attempted to interview Foley, who is heard in one instance telling the reporter to "talk to town counsel".
According to the I-Team report, Shortsleeve did attempt to contact Town Counsel Chris Petrini's office, but his call was not returned.
Shortsleeve laid out a laundry list of allegations against Foley including playing golf every Wednesday for several months during work hours, padding expense reports, frequently not showing up for work at all, and using his position to benefit friends and associates.
Like other Framingham municipal employees, Foley's job calls for him to perform a total of 37.5 hours of work per week from 8:30am - 5:00pm, Monday through Friday, (with one hour off per day for lunch and breaks).
A former town hall worker Shortsleeve interviewed claimed Foley's golf time was a well known issue around Town Hall and that other town employee's were not happy to see it happening.
Aside from the "golf Wednesdays", others in the building say Foley rarely showed up for work at all on Fridays until Shortsleeve started his investigation.
More damning perhaps are allegations that Foley used his position to give discounts on building permit fees to friends, and in some cases allowed work to be performed with no permits at all.
In one example in the I-Team investigation, Whole Foods on Rt. 9 had paid $4,950 in permit fees for a $330k project to install solar panels on their building.
The permit fees for nearly identical work done at Suburban Athletic Club where the job estimate was over $374k, the club was only charged $1500 for their permit -- with Foley personally singing off on the work. According to Shortsleeve's report, Foley is a member at Suburban Athletic Club.
Foley was formerly an Assistant Director of Inspectional Services, (since 2005), then acted as interim Director when former Building Commissioner Joe Mikielian left the job in September of 2006. Foley was officially appointed as Building Commissioner in May of 2007. Foley is 55 years old.
Foley is paid approximately $98k per year plus expenses, plus benefits for the job.
Foley has complained that the Building Department and Inspectional Services office is understaffed and needs increased budget -- yet he does not put in the hours he's paid for, and appears to be under-billing some customers and using the office for his own personal gain.
As a service to contractors, home-owners and others who could not get to the Building Department office during normal business hours, the Department used to stay open late until 7:00pm on Mondays allowing people to file permits, meet with staff and be able to get help with issues for the work week -- Foley discontinued this service in February of 2009.
Contractors who framingham.com contacted in regards to this article said others who work in the Town's Building Department are professional, courteous, and very helpful -- all except Foley who is difficult to reach, unpleasant to work with, and someone who definitely does not live up to the Town's motto of "Excellence in Public Service".
Read Joe Shortsleeve's I-Team Report, and watch the complete video segment on the WBZ-TV4 website at: http://boston.cbslocal.com/2011/11/01/i-team-framingham-building-commissioner-under-investigation/