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Chrobocinski Files Tort Claim Against County

on November 30, 2017 - 5:21am
Councilor James Chrobocinski
Los Alamos Daily Post

Los Alamos County Councilor James Chrobocinski, a local realtor, has filed a tort claim against Los Alamos County alleging severe abuse of power, harassment and being lied to by Los Alamos County Fire Marshall Jeff Wetteland and Chief Building Inspector Michael Arellano.

The claim is connected to a property on Sherwood Avenue in White Rock recently purchased by Chrobocinski and the future home of the Pig & Fig Café.

Chrobocinski alleges in his claim that Arellano and Wetteland came into the building shortly after a suspended ceiling and some temporary walls were removed. He said Arellano and Wetteland told him he needed a demolition permit for the work he already completed.

“I explained that I had all my contractors lined up for the construction work and that they would be pulling permits but that I had never heard of a demo permit or I would have taken care of that also,” Chrobocinski stated in his claim. “Michael Arellano told me to just have my contractor apply for it and that it was an over-the-counter permit they could do right away.”

Chrobocinski said he had his contractor do as directed but that apparently “Arellano either lied or changed his mind”, and they refused to handle it over the counter.

“Instead they asked for a set of drawings for the restaurant. Since none exist at the County (as per county staff), I hired a draftsman to draw up the building. Incidentally, since the county staff states that nothing has been submitted on the building since the 1970s, they apparently let all the temporary walls and other work be done on the building without a permit when they issued the occupancy permit in 2016,” Chrobocinski said. “I went ahead and submitted the drawings they required me to have drawn up as requested. However, this time Mr. Wetteland stated in an email, ‘I believe that the building division still needs an asbestos report, but that is not in my wheelhouse’”.

Chrobocinski’s claim states, “they know full well that the suspended ceiling no longer exists, so it is impossible to test. “They are showing a pattern of every time I comply with a request they come up with something else,” he said.

“Even if it could be done, there is no reason to test ceiling tiles that were put up in 1990 well after asbestos was outlawed. This last requirement was an obvious attempt to block me since they knew it could not be complied with. So, I told Mr. Wetteland that I had no choice but to give up on the demo permit and we will just have to go to court,” Chrobocinski said. “Interestingly enough, even though Mr. Wetteland stated that asbestos is not in his wheelhouse, he is the one who decided to push this issue.”

“Michael Arrellano seems to have lied to the County manager when he told him that he is keeping an arm’s length from this issue since Mr. Wetteland stated that it is in fact building services who wanted the asbestos testing done,” Chrobocinski states in his claim. “So, at around 4:30 p.m. the day before Thanksgiving, after the County manager, the County attorney, and the fire chief have all left town for the holiday, Mr. Wetteland personally went to my building and put up red tags on every window. He then threatened my staff that if any of them go in the building he would have them arrested.”

“Mr. Arrellano and especially Mr. Wetteland have demonstrated severe abuse of power, harassment, and have lied to me several times during this situation. It is obvious to me that this is in retaliation for me pushing back against their overzealous code enforcement in my role as County councilor,” Chrobocinski concluded in his claim.

Chrobocinski requested immediate of the demolition permit and that Arellano and Wetteland have no input, directly or indirectly, on this permit or any future permits or codes that he is involved. He is asking that any costs associated with delays at the building beyond Nov. 27 be reimbursed by the County with the costs to be determined when the matter is resolved.

County Manager Harry Burgess said Wednesday that the County is in the process of looking into Chrobocinski’s claims.

“The County doesn’t tolerate harassment of its employees or by its employees so we will be following up when we have more information,” he said.

Burgess said he understands the difficulty of being both a councilor and a business owner. He said while one part of the tort claim relates to activities of Chrobocinski’s business, the other part of the claim goes back to his actions as a councilor.

“The CDD Department interacts with James quite frequently and he has expressed prior concerns about policies and actions with CDD,” Burgess said. “The Department is interacting with him in this instance as a business person and needs to hold him to the same standards as any other business person and strive to treat him the same.”

Burgess said it’s unfortunate that the issues came after the discussion of code enforcement, however, because similar discussions have occurred in the past, he doesn’t see the actions of the employees in question to be retaliatory, that “they’re just doing their job”. He said his conversation with Chrobocinski was about how to move forward with the situation.

Chrobocinski said Wednesday that he was meeting with an asbestos inspector at the restaurant later in the day but believes there is nothing to test. He explained that according to County staff there were no records on previous work at the building since the original 1970s plans, however, he said he submitted a request for public records that revealed that records actually do exist. He said the County did not require a permit for the previous owner to move a stove hood a year ago but is requiring a permit for him to move it back to the same place.