A Wisconsin member of Congress filed two $300,000 lawsuits yesterday against the City of Alexandria and five top city officials, charging they violated his civil rights and were negligent in inspecting his new $390,000 house.
The house built for Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) and his wife Cheryl in 1985 by Alexandria developer Thomas B. O'Hara was allegedly approved for occupancy by the city despite major structural deficiencies, including missing steel support columns in a swimming pool room.
Sensenbrenner and his wife named Mayor James P. Moran Jr., City Manager Vola Lawson, Code Enforcement Administrator William H. Pennell, New Construction Supervisor John G. Brandt and Director of Transportation and Environmental Services Dayton L. Cook as defendants in the two $300,000 lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court and Alexandria Circuit Court.
"What I'm trying to do is get the money back because they screwed up so badly," Sensenbrenner said. "I don't think that any citizen should have to dip into his own pockets . . . because the city isn't doing its job."
Complaints lodged by Sensenbrenner 1 1/2 years ago helped spur a six-month city investigation into possible conflicts of interest in Alexandria's Code Enforcement Office. Last month, Lawson announced she intended to fire three building inspectors as a result of the investigation. One inspector was cited for "the poor quality of work" at the Sensenbrenner home.
Sensenbrenner has two lawsuits pending against the builder, O'Hara, who filed for bankruptcy last year. City officials said they are unable to prosecute O'Hara because a one-year statute of limitations on code violations has expired.
"I think that they are pretty silly suits," said Moran. "They are unjustified. Mrs. Lawson and I have never had anything but concern and sympathy for the congressman. We have taken very decisive action."
Last week the three building inspectors -- identified by sources familiar with the investigation as Brandt, John Weaver and Robert Warren -- formally contested their proposed terminations, according to city officials.
Sensenbrenner said the city issued an occupancy permit for his house at 609 Fort Williams Pkwy. in Alexandria's Chelsea neighborhood during the summer of 1985, soon after its completion. A few months later, after requesting a second city inspection, he was told that the indoor pool area was excluded from the certificate of occupancy and that 12 code violations throughout the house needed attention.
City officials said they ordered O'Hara to correct the violations.
The lawsuits state that the cost of bringing the Sensenbrenners' property up to code is about $300,000. One suit charges that the city violated the Sensenbrenners' rights to privacy and safety.
Lawson refused comment on the lawsuits, and Cook said he is not responsible for house inspections. Pennell, Brandt and O'Hara could not be reached for comment yesterday.