Rare breed: Kelly Como among the first in Northeast to achieve ICC permit tech certification
Kelly Como was nervous. The mother of three grown children hadn’t taken a test in ages. But there she was, about to take the 60-question, two-hour test to become an International Code Council certified Permit Technician. “Most of the test is common sense stuff that I had learned over the years,” said Como, administrative assistant in Inspectional Services for the city of Somerville in Massachusetts. “And I’ve learned a lot since I started with the city 24 years ago. But I wasn’t familiar with the more legal issues on the test, so I had to study the ICC books for that.”
Como said she knew nothing at all about building and zoning before she started with the city. She had worked some odd jobs before having kids, but she stayed home to raise them. She saw a posting for part-time work with Somerville in another department. When a full-time position opened in Inspectional Services, she jumped at the chance for extra hours.
Throughout the years, she has created and maintained building, plumbing, electrical and gas data as well as certificates of occupancy and inspection permitting data; kept on top of monthly revenue reports; and helped to create the annual department budget. Although the COVID pandemic has cut down in-person visits, Como is Somerville’s main point of contact for developers, contractors and property owners; she helps to ensure that all required documents are submitted for permitting and review by one or more of seven building inspectors, three electrical inspectors and two plumbing inspectors. “I enjoy working with people, and I learn by listening,” she said. “It’s different every day. Sometimes, all people want to do is have a conversation and they’ll go away satisfied.”
Como may have had even more pressure when taking the permit tech test, which she of course passed, if she knew how rare the certification was in her neck of the woods. “Permit tech certifications are common in the West and Midwest, but in the East, only New Hampshire has them,” said Dottie Mazzarella, the Code Council’s vice president of government relations for Massachusetts and New York.
When Como’s boss, Paul Nonni, called to let her know Como passed the permit tech exam, Mazzarella said they agreed they wanted to let other building department support staff in the East know. “Hopefully, they’ll see the benefits of the certification for their departments and their careers,” Mazzarella said.
Nonni, Somerville’s senior building inspector, has worked with Como for most of the 27 years she’s been with the city. Not only has Como been a great first contact with the public for the building department but she was the logical choice to add to the professionalism in the department. “Building inspectors and commissioners in Somerville already must be certified,” Nonni said. “So why not the clerical staff?”
When Somerville began handling permits online in 2014, they all were funneled through Como. “It was just logical she take the test for the certification,” Nonni explained, which could help her and others who take it gain more career benefits in Somerville or elsewhere. “I asked her if she would take the test, and she said, ‘Sure, why not?’ Kelly is always up for a challenge,” Nonni said “I come from the BOCA days,” said added, referring to the Code Council’s legacy organization, the Building Officials and Code Administrators International. “Certifications put professionalism where it should be in life… building safety.”
For Como, taking the test, and studying for it, was a no-brainer. “Why wouldn’t I? I love to learn new things,” she said. “I’ve been here 24 years, and I learn something new every day. The permit tech certification absolutely could help someone advance in their careers. We have one of my clerks beginning to prepare for it now. But I’m staying here. I love this job.”