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City names new building commissioner

BY Kaitlin Gebby - kgebby@wabashplaindealer.com

After five years of service in the position, Wabash Building Commissioner John Stephens has retired and his successor Jim Straws was announced at the Board of Public Works and Safety meeting Thursday.

Straws has worked alongside the former building commissioner for a number of years before Stephens’ retirement. Originally from West Lafayette, Straws became familiar with the Wabash area when his step-father owned an Owen’s Gas Station on Stitt Street in the ‘70s.

After graduating high school, he joined the U.S. Navy and later moved to LaFontaine. There, he joined the volunteer fire department in 1978 and eventually moved to North Manchester to join the fire department full time.

Ten years later in 1988 he became a building inspector for the Indiana State Fire Marshal’s office and has been a regional inspector for the last eight years.

During his regional inspections, he would work with Stephens. They developed similar habits and would notice similar attributes first when performing inspections, Straws said. When Stephens had a conversation about retirement, he knew he wanted to come back to Wabash.

“I knew I wanted to retire from state work,” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed public service, that’s why I’ve done it for 41 years now. So when I heard about John retiring, I thought it would be good to come back to Wabash, kind of like my base area. It’s a nice place to finish out my career.”

As building commissioner, Straws said he wants to change any stigmas people might have of a building inspector.

“I’m not here to hinder, I’m here to help,” he said. “I’d really like people to come to us first when they want to start a project so I can say, ‘Let’s talk about it,’ rather than backpedaling to get a permit.”

Straws said he’ll likely be focused on helping projects inside the older buildings of Wabash facing renovations.

He also explained that people should know they “don’t have to go above and beyond,” according to Indiana Code.

“Indiana has what we call a minimum code, which is basically the rule you had in school where if you got a D-, you pass the class,” he said. “All we’re looking for is D- work.”

Straws will be present at City Council meetings, Board of Works meeting, and Board of Zoning Appeals meetings in Wabash.