IAPMO-ICC plumbing code talks collapse

ONTARIO, CALIF. and FALLS CHURCH, VA. The International Association of Plumbing & Mechanical officials and the International Code Council announced that they have terminated talks to produce joint plumbing and mechanical codes. The talks collapsed when ICC members made clear their opposition to IAPMO's ANSI consensus code development process, saying that it allows parties with economic interests to

ONTARIO, CALIF. and FALLS CHURCH, VA. — The International Association of Plumbing & Mechanical officials and the International Code Council announced that they have terminated talks to produce joint plumbing and mechanical codes. The talks collapsed when ICC members made clear their opposition to IAPMO's ANSI consensus code development process, saying that it allows parties with economic interests to write codes. ICC uses a governmental consensus code process where public officials write the codes.

IAPMO executives and board members said they were stunned after receiving a memo from the ICC that effectively terminated Joint Venture negotiations.

"Both parties were in agreement on key matters and a successful conclusion seemed only weeks away," said IAPMO Executive Director G.P. "Russ" Chaney. "At this point, I'm almost at a loss for words."

"Both organizations worked cooperatively in good faith to try and put this joint venture together," said ICC Board President Henry Green. "We made it clear to IAPMO from the beginning that the code development process had the potential to be a real stumbling block, and that we would seek input from our members and stakeholders before finalizing any agreement. Our entire organization has given extensive consideration to a hybrid code development process that would have satisfied IAPMO's desire to maintain ANSI accreditation. Ultimately our members and stakeholders made it clear that they were unwilling to deviate from the ICC governmental consensus process, in which public officials — who have no economic interest in the outcome — determine the content of the code."

IAPMO, however, said that ICC's memo discards agreements made to-date and lays out a series of non-negotiable, major ultimatums that IAPMO must meet for talks to resume. The ultimatums cover every critical area of the Joint Venture: process, committee balance, base documents and ownership.

"We hope there is still a way to save the talks, but these 11th hour demands are totally unreasonable," stated IAPMO President Chris Salazar.

A year ago, IAPMO and ICC opened talks on the development of one plumbing code and one mechanical code, through a cooperative effort (Sept. 2005, p. 1). The goal of negotiations was to find a mutually agreed upon method of code development while the two organizations would remain wholly independent entities.

A successful joint venture would have strengthened both organizations by bringing the Uniform Plumbing Code and Uniform Mechanical Code into the comprehensive, coordinated family of codes offered by ICC, according to Green.

"A successful venture also would have increased resources available for training and member services, and reduced costly code adoption struggles," said Green. "Like IAPMO, we are disappointed that we could not reach an agreement. But the commitment to ICC's process runs deep among our members and stakeholders. We received input from all across the country that deviating from that process was unacceptable, even for a goal as worthy as creating a single family of codes and ending code adoption battles. ICC will not sacrifice the ICC governmental consensus process for the one code mission."

By its own account, ICC admits that agreement had been reached on nearly all key issues at the point it announced its effective withdrawal from the table, IAPMO stated. A history of negotiations, available on both parties' Web sites, illustrates this point.

As was stated by ICC leadership at its July 15, 2006, "National Town Hall Meeting," and again just recently on its Web site, "I am most impressed by the ability of both organizations to recognize and understand the fundamental goals of each other, and to craft the new venture so as to incorporate all of those goals. ... After much hard work, we have reached preliminary agreement on the basic code development processes that could enable us to jointly provide one plumbing code and one mechanical code for the country beginning in 2009."

Green said that a wide array of ICC's members, chapters and stakeholders provided extensive feedback on the outline of the proposed joint venture, and voiced significant concerns about the code development process, composition of committees, the base document, and ownership.

"We had hoped that these negotiations would bring us closer to our goal of a single set of codes, and put an end to the code adoption battles that we have sometimes found ourselves engaged in," said ICC Chief Operating Officer Rick Weiland. "Unfortunately, these goals cannot be accomplished within the context of the proposed arrangement. We remain hopeful that we can achieve them at some point in the future."

ICC uses a code development process that permits any interested party, including consumers and industry, to participate on committees, recom-mend code changes, testify, make motions and vote. However, the process reserves the final decision on code content for governmental members, who have no vested interest except public health and safety.

It is IAPMO's view that a vocal group of ICC members have come forward and affected the decisions of the ICC negotiating team. "Inaccurate and inflammatory" claims are circulating, IAPMO said in a statement, that ICC is sacrificing more than IAPMO in the Joint Venture.

"In all business negotiations, each party sends those to the table who are authorized to speak and decide on behalf of those they represent," said Chaney. "I am disappointed that this did not happen with the ICC."

IAPMO said it rejects the published claims of the protesters, including statements that its code process gives power to special interest groups. On the contrary, the democratic nature of IAPMO's consensus process allows everyone in the industry a voice — protection against any one group gaining an advantage. In fact, a "hybrid" approach to code development was a feature of the Joint Venture, combining the best features of each organization's methods, IAPMO maintained.

In August of 2005, ICC and IAPMO began formal discussions to explore the joint development of new plumbing and mechanical codes. Initiated by then ICC President Frank Hodge and IAPMO President Chris Salazar, both organizations signed a memorandum of understanding in September 2005.

Meetings were held in November 2005 and February 2006 to discuss whether the organizations could agree to essential elements needed to create joint plumbing and mechanical codes. In May, both groups announced the points for a tentative agreement on certain key elements. In July, ICC hosted a National Town Hall Meeting to publicly share details of the proposed joint venture and receive feedback from ICC members and stakeholders.

"Part of ICC's mission continues to be the development of a single comprehensive, coordinated set of codes for the built environment," said Weiland. "While both sides wanted this to work, ICC is a member-focused organization. Listening to our members is a strength. The feedback from our members and stakeholders made it clear that the joint venture as currently proposed would not be sustainable without further modification."

IAPMO said that it remains available to resume talks in the spirit of good faith.

Said Salazar, "IAPMO is ready and willing to make a formal commitment, and the Board of Directors of IAPMO have empowered me to sign the Joint Venture as negotiated and mutually agreed."