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State investigates Granite Shoals for unlicensed plumbing inspections

James Engbarth at Granite Shoals City Council, April 25, 2023

Iron Star plumbing owner James Engbarth tells the Granite Shoals City Council that he had an issue with the city’s former building inspector, Mike Light, conducting unlicensed plumbing inspections on one of his jobs. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey

The Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners is investigating Granite Shoals and an ex-building inspector formerly contracted by the city for alleged unlicensed plumbing inspections. Mayor Aaron Garcia informed the City Council during its regular meeting on Tuesday, April 25, that he had filed a complaint with the board.

Building inspector Mike Light was fired by City Manager Peggy Smith in October 2022 after officials received a complaint that he had greenlighted a plumbing job without holding the required license to do so. Garcia filed a complaint with the state board on March 6, fearing the city could be held liable for other unlicensed inspections by Light. 

The board’s director of enforcement, Stephen Davis, told that an investigator has been assigned, but it could be months before any results are shared.

“First and foremost, we’re looking at compliance,” Davis said. “We want to see that the city is doing things the right way.”

He explained that penalties could range widely depending on the investigation’s results. It might be as simple as correcting errors left by faulty inspections or as serious as $5,000 in fines per violation.

The original complaint against Light with the city came from James Engbarth, the owner of Iron Star Plumbing. According to Engbarth, Light told him to move forward with a plumbing job without actually inspecting it or contacting the city’s plumbing inspection contractor, ATS Engineers. 

“I just want to bring to the attention of the council that we had an inspector out here that was not licensed to be doing inspections,” Engbarth told the council during Tuesday night’s meeting.

After the meeting, he told that he had contacted the council around late September to inform members that Light had given his plumbing job the go-ahead, knowing that he was unlicensed. contacted Light, who confirmed he did approve Engbarth’s job over the phone without conducting a physical inspection or having a plumbing inspection license.

“Occasionally, I would do (a plumbing inspection) when ATS was not able to get to a job right away,” he said. “I very rarely conducted plumbing inspections.”

Light was a contracted building inspector with the city for nearly 10 years. ATS was the city’s contracted plumbing inspection service, but Light explained that he sometimes OK’d plumbing jobs if they were from trustworthy contractors like Engbarth.

Engbarth expressed further frustration with the city, claiming he was told by Smith that “there’s a handful of people out here that we do favors for,” referring to himself and other contractors. 

Smith told she learned that Light might have been conducting unlicensed plumbing inspections after she became interim city manager in June 2022.

“Mr. Light was a certified building inspector. He did not have a plumbing inspector license, and the city knew that when they hired him,” she said. “When I came on board and began to be aware of the situation, we began looking at what he was doing very specifically.”

Light’s dismissal as a contractor became a hot topic in March when a complaint was filed against Garcia for his involvement in the firing. Suzanne Ort filed four complaints against Garcia on March 16, one of which was an allegation that he had violated the city charter by directing Smith to end Light’s contract.

A subcommittee tasked with investigating the alleged charter violations announced that it would release results at the May 23 council meeting. That will be after the May 6 elections, which will change the makeup of the council, including a new mayor. Garcia is not running for re-election.