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CLARK COUNTY DUO FORMED COHESIVE,  EFFECTIVE BOND DESPITE REPRESENTING ‘COMPETING’ ORGANIZATIONS

By Mike Flenniken

History is full of bitter rivalries that divide relatives, friends and neighbors. The Hatfields and McCoys. The Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics. DC Comics and Marvel. The International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials and the International Code Council. 

While the last example continues to be the basis for so-called “code wars” throughout the United States, for about 15 years two gentlemen in Clark County, Nevada — one a former IAPMO board member and the other a former ICC president — managed to not only work together, but to help one of the busiest building departments in the nation thrive.

By the time Jordan Krahenbuhl joined the Clark County Building and Fire Prevention Department as an inspector in 1988, then-Assistant Building Official Ron Lynn had been there for seven years. Lynn was a member of the International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO) — the predecessor to the ICC — and Krahenbuhl had been attending meetings at the local IAPMO chapter since joining the department. Krahenbuhl said Clark County sent him to his first IAPMO conference — in Alaska — in 1993, and he has been to each one since.

His first conference was a notable one. The International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO), Building Officials and Code Administrators International (BOCA) and the Southern Building Code Congress International (SBCCI) were in the early stages of merging into a single organization with one set of codes, and IAPMO was on the outside looking in. As a result, IAPMO decided to terminate its relationship with the ICBO.

“It was at the IAPMO conference in ’93 that IAPMO passed a resolution basically severing ties with ICBO,” Krahenbuhl said. “And that’s when the whole fight started between ICBO and then, eventually, ICC, with IAPMO; it was in ’93 in Anchorage.”

Despite the acrimonious relationship between IAPMO and the ICBO (later the ICC), Krahenbuhl said Lynn, who was then the assistant building official, and Robert Weber, the building official until Lynn took over in 2001, were behind him 100 percent. Lynn joined the ICC board of directors in 2004 and was elected president in 2009.

“From my standpoint, it was never an issue,” Krahenbuhl said. “Whether as ICBO and IAPMO, or ICC and IAPMO, it just never was an issue. I always felt supported by Ron and by Bob.”

In 2000, Krahenbuhl was elected to the IAPMO board of directors as Central District Director. He would serve two consecutive three-year terms.

“Without Ron’s support, I never could’ve been on the board of directors,” he said. “From my view, Ron was always going to do what was number one for the Las Vegas Valley, for the industry and the valley, and then nationally.”

Lynn said his working relationship with Krahenbuhl was very good from the beginning. He wanted Krahenbuhl to not only be vocal at IAPMO meetings when it came to issues affecting Clark County, but to bring the expertise he was gaining at meetings and conferences and bring it back to the department.

“I wanted him to go for the IAPMO board of directors,” Lynn said. “I encouraged him, even though there were some problems with upper management at that time. I pushed, defended it, that this is what had to be if we were going to be an effective building department.”

Clark County has long been governed by a combination of IAPMO’s Uniform Codes and the ICBO’s building codes, but that was in doubt with the pending merger.

IAPMO CEO GP Russ Chaney, who joined IAPMO in 1995, said he and Krahenbuhl were leery about Jordan joining the IAPMO board. While not necessarily anti-IAPMO, Chaney said, Weber supported harmonizing the codes. Both were unsure about Lynn’s feelings on the matter.

“Jordan was very concerned about what Ron’s motives would be, because this is really at the beginning stages of the fights that continue to this day for code adoptions,” Chaney said. “So Jordan was pleasantly surprised that Ron respected IAPMO’s role and our concerns were unfounded. Because I was concerned about it also.”

Lynn said he didn’t receive much pressure to replace the Uniform Codes with the ICC’s codes.

“I mean, some would call and say, ‘We want to go push the IPC’ or ‘We want to do this,’ and I’d say, ‘You know, it’s the state law to have the Uniform Plumbing Code, and I never made a venture to try and replace that,’ ” he said. “I understand the desire for integration. But for us here we had mastered the process of taking the building codes, if you will, taking the I-Codes and Uniform Codes, and integrating them into a palatable product, and an effective product, for not only our administration — our inspectors and plan reviewers — but also for the industry as a whole to construct to. And I don’t believe we compromised anything in safety whatsoever.”

“Nothing,” Krahenbuhl agreed.

Using such attractions as the roller coaster at the New York-New York Hotel & Casino as an example, Lynn said Clark County was well positioned to incorporate multiple codes.

“The cars were manufactured in Italy, the software and electronics in Switzerland,” Lynn said. “We’d get the track manufactured in Japan. Then we’d have to integrate it. They would build it, if you will, in Cincinnati, Ohio, and then erect it finally here. So, our ability to use the different standards all over the world, to translate those, not to worry whether it’s metric or standard, and to make it work out there — and that’s the key is to make it work — we were probably more comfortable with. It was more of our paradigm, if you will, rather than structured.”

Lynn retired in 2016 after 35 years with Clark County, but he didn’t just ride off into the sunset. He immediately went to work as a consultant for the Nevada State Contractors Board. Having retired from that, he recently returned from a mission with the World Bank in Panama and a contract with Jamaica.

Krahenbuhl spent 30 years with Clark County, and his last day was July 13 — his birthday.

Why does their relationship still stand out as so unique?

“I think it’s maybe some turf guarding, maybe a little power struggle, and they’re not seeing the big picture as far as whether it’s the IAPMO guys or the ICC guys,” Krahenbuhl said. “They’re not seeing the big picture of what’s best for everybody.”

Their colleagues definitely noticed the dynamic between the two of them.

“I would get calls all the time from other jurisdictions,” Krahenbuhl said. “‘How do you do it? How are you guys doing this?’ And I’d tell them, as long as you had the ICC/ICBO side and the IAPMO side with the same goal, and that is what’s best for the industry, then it’s easy.”

“And a willingness,” Lynn said. “A willingness to talk, a willingness to work together, a willingness to understand that we are all in this to go forward for the betterment of our community. When you have that willingness, the obstacles go away. They may be challenges, but they are not obstacles.”

Chaney applauded Lynn for not only not trying to use his influence to replace the Uniform Codes at Clark County, but for supporting Krahenbuhl’s involvement with IAPMO, whether through giving him the time off to attend functions or even by providing funding for certain meetings for which IAPMO was not paying.

“Ron Lynn is the perfect example of what can be achieved when you have building officials who value the contributions of all of their sub-inspectors — plumbing, electrical, mechanical, fire, etc. — especially in a circumstance like Clark County, which over the years has been one of the busiest major cities in the United States for construction.”

Dwight Perkins, IAPMO’s Senior Vice President of Field Services, said it was clear that Lynn and Krahenbuhl shared a great mutual respect for each other, and that carried over into their working relationship. He applauded Lynn for not pushing for a code change simply because he was in the position to do so.

“It was my opinion that Ron Lynn felt that since the UPC and the UMC had been long established in Southern Nevada, there was no technical reason for changing them to the IPC or IMC,” he said, “Both the UPC and UMC correlate with the International Building Code or any other building code that’s adopted at the local level.”

When asked what message they would give to other jurisdictions in which a building official and an inspector might be on different sides of the code war.

“See the greater good,” Krahenbuhl said. “See the big picture, what’s best for the industry and best for public health and safety.”

Lynn agreed.

“What’s best for their area,” he said. “I’m not going to tell people in a different area, with whatever their politics are involved, what they can and cannot do. I can say, as I mentioned repeatedly, that we’re all in this for the public good, and to work to overcome the obstacles and the challenges, not let them blind you, to the benefit of frankly looking at different ways of addressing issues. And competition can be healthy.”

Chaney agreed by noting his experience in dealing with no fewer than seven CEOs of the ICC, or their legacy organizations, during his 23-plus-year tenure at IAPMO.

“There can be cooperation and mutual respect but it has to be driven from the top down if any two organizations have any hope of maintaining a collaborative relationship,” he said. “Jordan and Ron’s experience can be a great example for us to follow.”