CDD Building Department Earns National Accreditation

Front row from left, Kellee Fernandez of IAS, left, holds up the IAS accreditation plaque along with the Community Development Department building staff, which includes Chief Building Official Michael Arellano and Lenora Maes. Back row from left, Building staff David Martinez, left, Adrienne Lovato, Larry Valdez, Michael Marquez, Department Director Paul Andrus and Joe Dudziak. Photo by Kirsten Laskey/
Los Alamos Daily Post

The Community Development Department (CDD) achieved a major milestone. Its building department has earned nationally accreditation.

Kellee Fernandez of the International Accreditation Services (IAS) presented the accreditation plaque to County Council Tuesday night during the regular Los Alamos County Council meeting.

This is the County’s third department to be accredited; the CDD joins the local police and fire departments. Additionally, the CDD is the sole building department in New Mexico to earn this achievement.

It wasn’t an easy road to receive this accreditation, Fernandez said.

She explained that the CDD staff needed to be open and transparent as well as allow a third person party to point out areas of improvement.

Fernandez added that the CDD needed to share its budgeting and finances, human resources practices, its staffing and oversight practices.

“I’m very proud of this group,” CDD Director Paul Andrus told Council.

Andrus told the Los Alamos Daily Post during an interview Wednesday morning that the idea to earn the accreditation took seed three years ago when he stepped into the role of department director.

At that point the department went through a re-organization and set up the groundwork to begin the accreditation process, he said.

The department actively began pursuing the accreditation a year-and-a-half ago when it became evident that staff had already completed a good portion of the work toward it, Andrus said. The process included submitting nearly all operational documentation for the division as part of a  pre-site visit review in preparation for the on-site audit in October 2018. At that time, representatives from IAS visited the department and in addition to completing an exhaustive review of the department’s policies and procedural manuals for oversight and quality control, they also conducted “shadow” reviews of plans examinations and on-site permitting inspections.

Andrus said the CDD received information on what IAS representatives found during their visit and were able to respond to that feedback.

As a result, the CDD “met the criteria for accreditation as a modern building department,” he said.

Council commended the CDD on its achievement.

Councilor Antonio Maggiore said, “This is a huge deal. I’m really proud of each and every one of you.”

Council Chair Sara Scott offered heartfelt congratulations and gave a big thank you to Andrus and his team for their work.

County Manager Harry Burgess also congratulated the CDD.

“They achieved what they set out to do,” he said. “I think it’s a great achievement.”

Andrus told the Post that this accreditation benefits everyone from the department to its customers.

“It essentially validates that staff have modernized and formalized all the policies and procedures associated with building permitting and inspections with the focus of our customer base and expediting process when possible with building and safety as the highest priority,” he said.

Andrus added the accreditation establishes an internal procedure that allows the CDD to have a higher level of quality control where the staff can adopt best practices of the building permitting industry. He credited his staff for getting this accreditation.

“We have a strong and cohesive team in place with a very experienced leader in our Chief Building Official Michael Arellano,” Andrus said.

The CDD has recently received a lot of public attention, both good and bad, particularly in its code enforcement program.  So, to receive the accreditation feels like a validation for the department’s work, Andrus said.

 “It validates all the things we’ve been trying to do to improve. For me, I’m enjoying this for the group because of all the hard work that they did. This shows that we have assembled a good team.”

Although the accreditation was earned, the work is not over. Andrus said the IAS will do periodic checks on the system and the CDD will need to provide information that will be used to determine whether the accreditation will be kept.

“There’s always room for improvement and we’re always looking for ways to provide the highest customer service,” Andrus said. “And we welcome feedback from customers on how to achieve that.”