Berry fires building inspector

Jacob Coburn’s controversial tenure as Eureka Springs’ city building inspector has come to an end.

Mayor Butch Berry fired Coburn on Friday, June 28, according to an employee termination form provided by mayoral assistant Kim Stryker in response to a request from the Eureka SpringsTimes-Echo.

The form indicates that Coburn will not be recommended for other jobs nor considered for rehire by the city.

Coburn, who was hired in November 2022, has had several run-ins with local businesses, residents and contractors over what many describe as unfair enforcement of building codes and unnecessary and expensive orders on building projects. His critics say Coburn’s orders have been especially harmful to efforts regarding historic buildings in the city.

Among those critics is Jack Moyer, general manager of the historic Crescent and Basin Park hotels. Moyer said he had run-ins with Coburn both in his professional capacity and regarding a home he was personally restoring.

“The thing that bothered me most was his approach to historic preservation,” Moyer said Tuesday, July 2. “Specifically, in the building code, it allows, at the discretion of the building official, to accept the condition of the original construction of the building. There were things that he was doing to people, requiring them to do additional demolition on their property, like remove sheetrock from existing walls, that were not consistent with a how we’ve done historic preservation in the past. What he was doing is forcing people to open up access to their property, whereas he could then require them to rebuild it to current code.”

According to Moyer, Coburn recently entered the Crescent Hotel “under false pretenses” to inspect the hotel’s grease trap.

“He brought the state mechanical inspector with him,” Moyer said. “He failed to identify himself or ask to see our safety and security representative or anybody for maintenance. He walked right into the kitchen. … He found that he was wrong in that scenario. We had a grease trap. We had had it maintained. And when I called him on it, he said, ‘well, I had received a complaint about your grease trap. That’s why I have the right to come in here.’

“But then I did a request to see the complaint, and he could not produce the complaint. So he entered under false pretense.” Moyer said he wasn’t the only person to have issues with Coburn.

“I know of several similar-type complaints,” Moyer said, “including one instance when he fined a local subcontractor $500 for starting work without a permit but did not write a summons and instead added that total to the building permit.”

Local contractors James and Elizabeth Carol Wicker also had multiple run-ins with Coburn, Elizabeth Carol Wicker said.

“The last year and a half that he has been here, it has been just a power struggle,” she said. “It has just been horrible, and costly, for us and our customers, our clients. It has been time-consuming, without pay.”

Elizabeth Carol Wicker said Coburn relied on a section in the building code that gives the city inspector “discretion.”

“That little thing in there, it’s up to the inspector’s discretion, in all the code books, just gives him carte blanche to do whatever he wanted to do,” she said.

Elizabeth Carol Wicker said she and her husband met with Berry regarding Coburn on the same day Coburn was fired.

“That may have put the nail in the coffin,” she said. “I think it was already in the works.”

Coburn did not respond to a message sent to his personal email account.