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N.C. Opinions: Greensboro

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The elevator lady’s task

From an editorial Saturday in the (Greensboro) News & Record:

Her fame as North Carolina’s elevator lady pushed her to the top of a political poll and inspired a music video (“Cherie Berry Wow”) by Elon University student Derek Scully.

But Berry has an important responsibility when it comes to lifts. As North Carolina labor commissioner, she supervises elevator safety in the state.

She was letting us down, according to a state audit released in June. Inspectors found 30,300 violations in 13,138 elevators last year, auditors reported. Most violations were minor, but some were serious, such as phones and fire service not working. Yet only 3 percent of the time did inspectors follow up to see if violations were corrected.

“From 2010 to 2012, about 1,150 elevators had the same violations for at least two consecutive years,” auditors said, suggesting some problems were never corrected during that time.

Despite that number, the department assessed penalties in only 36 cases. The department also “deviates from state law and its own internal procedures when reducing penalties” and does a poor job of tracking penalties and corrective actions.

Often, regulatory agencies assess penalties for every day a violation persists as an incentive to make timely corrections. That was the Department of Labor’s policy until last year.

The department responded positively to the audit: “The Elevator and Amusement Device Bureau is working to implement a new software system that will help it track that corrective action has in fact been taken,” a spokesman said in an email Thursday. “The bureau will re-educate all inspectors on the proper calculations of penalties using the penalty adjustment factors set out in the bureau’s operations manual.”

Even before the audit was released, Public Information Officer Neal O’Briant added, the bureau adopted new procedures to make sure follow-up investigations are completed in a timely manner.

That should be a priority from the top down. After all, it’s the commissioner’s picture and signature that’s put on the safety certification in every elevator.

This personal touch makes Berry a minor celebrity.

Berry has been elected four times, and she fared better in one poll than any other Republican in a potential race against Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan. But Berry says she won’t run for the Senate seat next year and will keep her current job instead.

She needs to get that job done. All North Carolinians who ride in an elevator deserve to know that hers is a face they can trust.

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