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Document release fails to quell controversy

By Staff | Dec 11, 2010

“Reams” of supporting documentation referenced by City Manager Gary King Monday night in response to criticism of consultants’ reports he solicited consists of three requests for outside sourcing costs and a box of random notations, figures, notes and information compiled by one of the individuals King hired for the job.
The two Requests for Proposal and Request for Bid to look into the cost of outsourcing the Public Works functions of street sweeping, dredging and pepper tree removal, along with the box of information, are the only documents identified by the City Manager’s office, and the City Clerk’s office, as being available to support the report submitted by consultant Jim Martin.
The information was released Thursday after multiple parties made public records requests following King’s announcement Monday night.
No supporting documents were released this week concerning an earlier report issued by consultant Bill Towler, who said he found numerous problems with how the city receives and disburses fuel to its fleet of vehicles and other motorized equipment.
King told council Monday after some residents and Councilmember Marty McClain said the reports were not properly substantiated that the findings had substantial back-up documentation.
“I can tell you that a three-page executive summary has got reams of backup information behind it in both cases. Reams of it. These are not idle accusations that are unfounded,” King said in defense of the reports and the individuals he hired at $39 an hour to look at city operations and processes.
King said Friday there is no more forthcoming information to support the Martin report, and the box of hand-written notes and other information is the supporting data he referenced on Monday.
King also said neither the information in the box, nor any of the information related to the reports filed by the special consultants, was meant for public consumption, identifying the contents of the box as Martin’s “work product.”
The public was not necessarily meant to understand the process, or Martin’s work habits, he added.
“I clearly understood it and knew the source of it,” King said. “It was never our intent to prepare his work product so the general public could review and judge it.”
Back-up information pertaining to the Bill Towler fuel management report, which alleges that 360,000 gallons of fuel is unaccounted for, is now “under the auspices” of an audit currently being conducted by the city and Lee County, King said, and are not available to the public.
City council ordered the audit of its fuel processed in the wake of Towler’s findings. That audit is expected to be performed by Clerk of the Courts Charlie Green’s office.
Martin said the information contained within the RFPs was the supporting documentation for his report, not the contents of the box, which was kept to comply with public records statutes that prohibit the destruction of most records, including draft documents. Martin said he was instructed by the City Clerk’s office “to keep everything”, and the contents of the box is the result of that direction.
His three-page executive summary, Martin said, had “substantial back-up”, and could “stand up in a court of law.” He added his job was to identify areas of the Public Works Department that were not running efficiently.
“My job was to identify and point out places where we might be able to save money,” Martin said. “(The report) will be further validated when those proposals that were put on the street come back in.”
Martin said in his report the city could save upwards of $1.6 million if they outsource three functions of the Public Works Department: dredging, Brazilian pepper tree removal, and street sweeping.
Hand-written notes in the box indicate that Martin was looking beyond those three areas at some point, including swales, staffing levels, sidewalks, the North RO Plant, as well as having one director over the police and fire departments, and the Parks and Recreation Department.
While it’s unclear when, exactly, he narrowed his focus, Martin said he decided to pare down his work to pepper trees, dredging and street sweeping when he realized he didn’t have enough time within his three-month contract, for which he was paid over $20,000, to fully examine all the areas.
Martin maintains that he was never “trying to get people laid off”, or “bust the union or eliminate jobs”, despite some public reaction.
Hand-written notes contained in the box indicate he had issues with at least Jay Saxena, the city’s Storm Water manager.
Martin wrote: “Continued mistrust, dislike and out and out disgust of Jay Saxena. Lack of management skills, ability to show his expertise in his field of control. Rank and file think he is dumb.”
When Saxena didn’t, or couldn’t, provide the information Martin requested Martin wrote, “Stormwater Manager is not an asset to this city.”
Martin also indicated in the same hand written notes that it was crucial “to request “help” from the workers in the trenches –they are the key and our salvation!”
Paperwork also contained in the box indicates that at least one other citizen — Phillip Boller — wanted to assist Martin in his examination of the Public Works department.
In an email to Martin dated Friday, Oct. 22, Boller wrote: “I was informed by you any contribution and/or assistance which I might provide you could not be obtained for me to personally interview any employees working in the PW Departments. From whoever, I recall the union. Right?”
Boller also was apparently looking to be paid for his efforts out of Martin’s $20,000-plus fee. Boller wrote, “Now I understand the real reason was because of my request for a NTE payment for any assistance in your effort. Without a doubt, this NTE cost should never have been considered separate charge against the city, but one against the funds you received from the city as being hired as an independent consultant.”
Martin said Boller wanted to examine the entire Public Works Department.
“He looked and realized I didn’t have time (to examine everything), but he wasn’t allowed by union rules to go in and out of the Public Works Department,” Martin said.
If an extension had been offered by Gary King to keep Martin for another term, Martin said he would have declined it.
Reaction from the public has been severe, Martin said, and caused him unneeded stress. Martin said even his grandson was being threatened in school over the report.
Martin said he simply made observations after collecting and studying data.
“Either we’re inefficient or our systems don’t work,” Martin said.
Both Jim Martin and Bill Towler came under public fire after being hired by King over three months ago.
King and Towler were both vocal supporters of Martin when Martin ran for the District 1 Council seat last fall, with Towler operating a website — grassroots09 — that not only touted Martin but Mayor John Sullivan, Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz, and candidate John Cataldi, during the same election.
Sullivan and Chulakes-Leetz were elected; Martin and Cataldi were not.
Sullivan and Chulakes-Leetz were among those on council who then supported the appointment of King to the city’s top administrative post.
Sullivan said Friday that he had not seen Martin’s box of backup information and could not comment on its contents.
Still, Sullivan said he expects more information to come out for both the Towler and Martin reports.
“I expect to see more information, anyway. If not, I’m going to be greatly disappointed,” Sullivan said.
Chulakes-Leetz could not be reached for comment.
Councilmember Kevin McGrail, who ran against Cataldi, said he, too, had not seen the box of supporting information, but planned on taking a look.
More disconcerting than not seeing detailed information for McGrail was the lack of response from the Public Works Department staff or director included in the final report, or executive summary.
“We would expect, based on these revelations in the report, that city staff, particularly Chuck Pavlos, would have an opportunity to respond in written fashion,” McGrail said. “None of that was done. And because none of that was done, the concern I now have is we moved due diligence and research into the realm of politics. Once it crosses that line it loses validity.”
Conclusions made by Martin could have come from city staff, McGrail said, adding the city essentially “threw out” two years of lean government experience to call on Martin and Towler.
“Sometimes you need an outside view, but I don’t agree with the sensationalist nature of those reports,” McGrail said.
The lack of information, and supporting documentation, in both reports is troubling, according to Councilmember Marty McClain, who has criticized the Towler and Martin reports as “gossip turned into gospel.”
He said he has yet to see anything that supports the findings of either consultant. If such documentation does exist, he said, it’s apparently unavailable.
“I still have not received anything that proves or disproves anything … no one can get their hands on it,” said McClain, who ran against Martin in the last council election.
Meanwhile, Martin maintains that the Public Works Department needs a continued study of all its functions in order to operate efficiently.
He did not venture an opinion as to whether that meant another special consultant or reorganization of the department itself.
“Our city is being strangled by inefficiency … I could have come back, but I don’t need the aggravation,” Martin said. “They need to get somebody that would come in and look at it. I tried to help.”