City's building inspector mourned
By Paul Nelson Published 11:03 pm, Monday, February 13, 2017
Eric Shilling, the city's affable building inspector, spent hours recently testifying in front of a grand jury investigating a fatal 2015 Jay Street fire. On Friday, he committed suicide, friends and his girlfriend confirmed.
On Monday, a grief-stricken Lauren Cavanaugh told the Times Union the couple was at her cabin near Utica when Shilling went for a walk with the dog and did not return.
Cavanaugh said Shilling, 51, was supposed to appear again before the Schenectady County grand jury that is investigating how closely city code enforcement officers scrutinized 100-102 and 104 Jay St. for possible code violations in the weeks before the March 6, 2015 fire that killed four people.
"It was grueling and it's not done yet," said Cavanaugh of the ongoing proceedings. "He just did everything with the highest integrity and 100 percent effort and always did the right thing."
In the nearly two years since the fire, lawsuits have alleged the sprinklers weren't working in the buildings, that 104 Jay St. was poorly maintained, that the fire hydrants closest to the buildings did not work and that city inspectors had not properly scrutinized the buildings.
Police and prosecutors determined the fire was most likely started when a cigarette, candle or incense ignited the upholstery of a recliner inside an apartment.
Schenectady County District Attorney Rob Carney, who empaneled the grand jury, said Monday he hoped to conclude the probe in the next few months. He declined further comment.
Mayor Gary McCarthy said he was saddened by Shilling's passing, describing him as hard-working and dedicated.
The mayor said he recently complimented Shilling on his work related to the newly opened Rivers Casino and Resort, and said Shilling was instrumental in the city's efforts to fight blight and automate his office.But others who knew Shilling said he had been unhappy about his interactions with city officials.
Bill Winkler, a retired city manager and former top aide to the mayor, said Shilling's code enforcement job called for him to work closely with the other departments, including law, finance and general services.
"He was very demoralized about his job," Winkler said.
City Council President Leesa Perazzo said she admired Shilling for his willingness to fight for what he thought was "right and just."
"Eric was a very special man and cared deeply about the city," said Perazzo, who during Monday's City Council meeting publicly recognized Shilling for his contributions to Schenectady.
She said Shilling confided in her about some of his on-the-job challenges and complained about being excluded from meetings that directly affected his department.
"Eric experienced a lot of push back on things he felt very strongly were the right way to do things," Perazzo said."He and the mayor did not see eye to eye," she said.McCarthy denied assertions that Shilling was being bullied by high-ranking members of his administration.
"Everybody's been impressed with his work. I've been impressed with his work, and those assumptions and fact pattern of what you're alleging is just absolutely incorrect," McCarthy said. He reiterated his support for Shilling and the code enforcement office's work before the fire.
"I believe the facts will lay out that we were appropriate in what we were doing even though there may be some areas where, in retrospect, we may want to improve," the mayor said.
General Services Commissioner Paul LaFond also praised Shilling, saying his employee "did a very good job and was very intelligent."
LaFond rejected the notion that he and other higher-ups at City Hall treated Shilling harshly.
Cavanaugh said Shilling doted on his two sons, ages 12 and 14, loved being outdoors hunting and fishing, and was a huge New York Giants football fan.
She said the couple knew each other growing up in Stittville, Oneida County, and reconnected as adults.
Cavanaugh cried as she recounted how hurt Shilling was at not getting an invitation to Wednesday's grand opening of Rivers Casino after working hard to secure the necessary permits.
Shilling's family is holding a private ceremony Saturday.http://www.timesunion.com/tupl.....d=123#photo-12367972