Zurik: City inspector signed off on Hard Rock Hotel work without proper certification

Updated: Feb. 18, 2020 at 7:20 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - A city inspector that performed several inspections at the Hard Rock Hotel construction site was not certified during some of those inspections, records obtained by FOX 8 show.

Julie Tweeter, an inspector with the New Orleans Department of Safety and Permits, logged performing inspections at the Hard Rock Hotel site. A partial collapse of that construction site killed three men in October and now several investigations are ongoing into the collapse and the city’s department of safety and permits.

The Louisiana State Fire Marshal’s Office confirms Tweeter did not register as a commercial building inspector until the Summer of 2018. Before that time, according to inspection logs in the Department of Safety and Permits, Tweeter visited the Hard Rock Hotel construction site six times to perform inspections.

The State of Louisiana requires inspectors to be certified by the International Code Council and register that certification with the state fire marshal’s office.

After receiving that certification in July 2018, Tweeter continued to inspect the Hard Rock Hotel site. FOX 8 analyzed GPS data from the department’s fleet of vehicles and found at least four times Tweeter claimed to inspect the Hard Rock Hotel site, but the GPS records indicate she was not in the area.

One example on October 1, less than two weeks before the collapse, GPS records show Tweeter arrived at New Orleans City Hall at 7:58 a.m. and stayed there until 1 p.m. She then drove a few spots in the Central Business District but not coming close to the Hard Rock Hotel site. However, in city inspection logs, Tweeter signed off on a slab inspection at the construction site.

Following FOX 8′s findings, city officials are promising swift action if their investigation comes to the same conclusion.

The New Orleans City Council launched its own investigation into the deadly collapse and the city’s response. Council President Helena Moreno said she was disturbed by the findings she saw on FOX 8.

“I was really disturbed by what I saw and incredibly concerned as well,” she said. “I believe if those accusations are true... I believe that person needs to be fired and I think the proper law enforcement authorities need to be contacted as well.”

District B Councilmember Jay Banks echoed the concerns of Moreno and urged for accountability.

“If those people are not where they were supposed to be, then they need to be held accountable and held responsible to the fullest extent of the law,” Banks said.

City of New Orleans communications director Beau Tidwell said Tweeter is still employed by the city, but did call in sick to work the day after FOX 8′s report.

“I know that right now we are looking at reassigning her," Tidwell said. “I’m not sure where we are in the process, that is a conversation that takes some time but as of today she is out sick and they are looking at ways to reassign her duties right now.”

The city has hired an outside attorney to investigate the Safety and Permits Department. The New Orleans Office of Inspector General has also launched a separate investigation.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell said there will be more that is revealed when those investigations are complete.

“I’m told that we are expecting even more and so I just tell the residents you know ‘Get prepared for what will come from these investigations’,” Cantrell said. “While we don’t have all of the information or all of the facts but as they are completed the City of New Orleans and my administration is just prepared to take swift action."

On the federal level, a report from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is due to be released in mid-April.

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