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Municipal fuel data accuracy questioned

By Staff | Feb 1, 2011

The City Manager’s office indicated Monday that the city’s fuel database might not be accurate, a fact officials say has been shared with the Lee County staff currently auditing the municipality’s fuel consumption.
The fuel audit was sparked after special consultant Bill Towler reported that millions of dollars of city fuel could not be accounted for, and that security measures in place were either ineffective or easily circumvented.
City Manager Gary King, who hired Towler, extended Towler’s contract to continue the operations review. Meanwhile, city council authorized an audit into the issues raised concerning fuel consumption.
That audit has been under way through the city auditor’s office, which is now working with auditors provided through Lee County Clerk of Courts Charlie Green’s Office.
Interim City Auditor Margaret Krym, who provided an update to council Monday night, said no information has been released and no report has been issued thus far.
Krym said her office expects the county’s audit to completed by April. Should that report miss its deadline, Krym said her findings will be made public.
“If they don’t have a full audit report ready to go by April we will come forward with a full memorandum … we will do that in writing so it will be a public document,” Krym said.
Krym told council she is concerned about “bits and pieces” of her office’s finding being released, instead of the public getting a “full picture” of the city’s fuel consumption.
Krym reiterated that her office has issued no report, and no official information has been released, just that the work is ongoing.
“I think there is speculation out there … a lot of rumors,” Krym said. “We are working on this. City staff is involved.”
Information, or “work product”, as described in a city’s email concerning the potential data issue, cannot be made public until the audit is completed.
Councilmember Marty McClain, who has criticized the Towler Report, called the email released to the media Monday an “exit strategy” for those who supported the report.
McClain thinks the audits will eventually refute the findings of the original report presented by Towler.
“We know there’s been problem with the data for some time,” McClain said. “The consultant should have dug deeper before coming forward with his report.”
Towler will have made nearly $50,000 by the time his second contract ends. His first contract of $20,000 was extended by King after his report was presented and made public.
McClain said he doubts Towler’s salary will be covered in any cost savings through the fuel audits.
“Taxpayers should be concerned what we’re paying for our consultants. I know I am,” McClain said.
Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz said he has no real reaction to finding that the city’s fuel database is inaccurate, nor does he think the issue of the fuel consumption has become political.
Chulakes-Leetz said he is waiting until Lee County turns in its audit before he reacts one way or the other.
“It has nothing to do with politics, it has to do with taxpayers’ money,” he said.