For nine years, Art Dahlberg has led the city’s Code Enforcement Bureau through a building frenzy and several important process changes. He has increased the role of code inspections during the site plan process, expanded access for public-safety vehicles in the city’s crowded streets and brought a sense of cohesion to city’s varied services. Last month, Dahlberg announced that he will leave Alexandria to accept a position as commissioner of buildings in Richmond.
“In many ways, it’s similar to the job I’m doing here,” Dahlberg said. “Gov. Wilder is an incredible leader, and I feel honored to be part of his team.”
After the announcement became public, City Manager Jim Hartmann praised Dahlberg as an exceptional leader whose tenure as director saw many important changes in the city.
“He has led the Code Enforcement Bureau through a period of great challenge for the city of Alexandria, and also great accomplishment,” said Hartmann in a July 27 written statement. “During this time, Code Enforcement has fulfilled its responsibilities effectively and efficiently, and — unlike many other jurisdictions — with an absolute minimum of errors and complaints.”
Dahlberg has an unusual distinction in Virginia, where he has been director of both bureaus that organize code enforcement under the local fire department. Before coming to Alexandria, he spearheaded Fairfax City’s plan to move code enforcement responsibilities into the Fairfax City Fire Department. When he came to Alexandria in 1997, Dahlberg already had a good idea about how code enforcement and fire prevention could coexist in a way that both would benefit.
“Art Dahlberg has reformed and streamlined Code Enforcement from within at the same time that he has managed an effective outreach process to educate and inform the community to use the permitting process with a minimum of confusion and delay,” said Fire Chief Gary Mesaris. “We will miss him.”
Dahlberg said putting code enforcement duties under the purview of the Fire Department was a smart organizational move for Alexandria, which was the first jurisdiction to do so in the mid-1980s. Fairfax City followed suit a few years later, and Dahlberg has been merging code enforcement with public safety for 15 years.
“The benefit to the community is that you have a more common voice, without different parts of the government saying different things,” Dahlberg said. “It also gives building inspectors a better appreciation for fire prevention.”
A NATIVE of Pluto, Ohio, Dahlberg graduated from Shawnee Mission South High School in Kansas before earning a degree in structural engineering from Kansas State University. After graduating from college, Dahlberg moved to Virginia to take a position as a patent examiner for the Patent Trade Office in 1982.
“My heart really wasn’t in it,” said Dahlberg of his time at the Patent Trade Office.
In 1985, he took a position as a structural engineer for Fairfax County. In 1992, he moved over to Fairfax City to become director of the Code Enforcement Bureau at a time when it was transitioning into the Fire Department. He came to Alexandria’s City Hall in 1997 — just before the city began experiencing a building boom that continues to this day.
“The construction volume doubled in my first year here,” Dahlberg said. “The city was coming out of a slowdown, and people had a lot of pent up energy. So they started building.”
As director, Dahlberg worked to bring the Code Enforcement Bureau into the city’s planning process. For example, he said, the original plan for the new Patent Trade Office had very little access for emergency vehicles. He worked with other city leaders to make sure that the new buildings would have availability for public-safety vehicles as well as cutting-edge fire-prevention technology.
“We don’t want to scare developers away,” Dahlberg said. “But at the same time, the city is aggressive about doing good development.”
As commissioner of buildings, Dahlberg will head the city of Richmond’s Bureau of Permits and Inspections and the offices of zoning, property maintenance, permits and site plan review and new construction permitting and inspection. He will head a staff of 85 employees with an annual budget of $ 5.5 million.
“Other local governments look to Alexandria to fill their top positions because they know our reputation for excellence, innovation and cost-effectiveness,” said Hartmann. “At the same time, talented professionals are drawn to Alexandria from throughout the region and nation because they want to be part of our team.”
Deputy Director of Code Enforcement Jannine Pennell will serve as Interim Bureau Director during the search for Dahlberg’s successor.