homepage logo

City still grappling with fuel issue

By Staff | Aug 27, 2011

The Cape Coral police sergeant who studied the city’s fuel management software found what he believed were deficiencies in the system that caused “gaps” in the transaction sequencing, according to work papers pertaining to the fuel audit released by the city auditor’s office.

Sgt. David Dye wrote he believed these gaps were not deleted records, but instead reflected how the software recorded failed transactions.

Some 48,993 such gaps were identified and were explained as “a missing transaction or a dropped sequence identifier number,” according to the final audit released on June 20.

When interviewed twice by city and county auditors earlier this year, Dye explained that a number is assigned to each transaction at the point of its inception, but if something should fail during that transaction, the assigned number is used, then dropped and the next number in the sequence is automatically assigned to the following transaction.

Notes from Dye’s initial interview with the city auditor’s office on Feb. 23 state, “Sgt. Dye opines that they are not deleted but rather the poor SCI system design is causing the discrepancy. He presents a pretty convincing case.”

Dye didn’t think records were deliberately deleted and found no evidence of a crime while studying the recordings.

Dye agreed that it was possible for a record to be deleted and hidden by these gaps, but felt the difficulty of such an effort would be beyond the scope of most.

Notes from his March 23 interview with city and county auditors states, “The only users who could make an inappropriate change, resulting in a permanently deleted record, are those who have the necessary Microsoft SQL software, the knowledge to use it and have access to the software database and an understanding of the database.”

City Auditor Margaret Krym said the software also contained a deficiency that would not allow for easy deletion of PIN numbers.

PIN numbers could be deactivated but not entirely deleted. All deactivated PIN numbers would move the associated data Refuel Delete log.

“A shortcoming in this version of the software was that you couldn’t deactivate the PIN numbers in the primary database,” she said.

SCI Distributions, the company that sold the software to the city, became concerned their products were being unfairly singled out and vigorously defended its product.

In a May 27, 2010 letter to City Manager Gary King, SCI General Manager Tal Ezra was “dismayed at any potential allegation” the fuel audit may have suggested about their software.

Although Krym said the letter had no bearing on the final audit, Ezra was still concerned that his company was being singled out.

He wrote, in part, “how can you expect SCI to be responsible for any action done on the fuel management software ad database?”

Ezra stood by his software, saying it has withstood “rigorous testing” and that the software has “many satisfied customers.”

Ezra felt the company’s financial future was at stake and stopped just short of warning the city of litigation.

“Therefore SCI is prepared to and will defend any concerns regarding the alleged defects in SCI software,” Ezra wrote.

Tal Ezra did not return requests for comment by press time Friday.

The final fuel audit stated that the “Refuel Deleted” log held 77,460 records.

The Refuel Deleted log is where deleted information – including PIN numbers, fuel rings and other data – is sent when excised from the software’s primary log.

When the primary fuel log and the refuel deleted log were reconstructed, the remaining records then became the 48,993 “gaps” identified by Dye.

The final audit states that the gaps mean that all transactions cannot be accounted for.

However, Krym said accounting data studied during the audit showed that the amount paid for fuel in, and the amount of fuel that was distributed throughout the city and its departments did not raise any flags.

“At the end of the day, fuel in and fuel out was pretty close,” she said. “We looked at the accounting information and we didn’t find anything that looked unreasonable.”

The final audit report showed a difference of $31,693 between payments made for fuel purchases and fuel costs allocated to departments from 2005 – 2010.

Initial investigation

The process of analyzing the city’s fuel management began with special consultant Bill Towler, who was hired by then newly appointed City Manager Gary King. Towler was, at the time of his hire, tasked with studying the city’s fleet department.

Towler eventually studied the city’s fuel consumption and management system, describing an “out of control” trend between 2006 – 2010, as written in his Nov.13, 2010 report.

His report found that the city had a “complete lack of fuel usage accountability” over the five-year time span and if those management controls were fixed estimated the city could save up to $1,044,964.20 annually.

After his initial presentation, city council decided a full examination of the city’s fuel management was in order and an interlocal agreement was struck with the Lee County Clerk of Court’s office to do just that.

Meanwhile, innuendo and hearsay began to spiral out of control, as city employees felt that Towler’s report put them in the crosshairs, while some council members and the city manager went on the defensive saying no improprieties were ever suggested.

The audit by Charlie Green’s Office got under way late last year, using Towler’s findings as the jumping off point. Towler was taken out of the loop on or around Nov. 18 when the city and county auditors began their efforts.

City Auditor Margaret Krym, who at the time was still serving in an interim capacity, asked that SCI stop communicating with Towler and instead direct all communication to her and the county auditor to protect the confidentiality of the information and the integrity of the audit.

Towler was brought in for an interview on Feb. 22, during which time he basically recounted his report and presentation before city council, working papers state.

Notes from that interview state that Towler was “enthusiastic” and also indicated he never mentioned $5 million in “missing” or unaccounted for fuel, only the lack of controls and accountability by Cape Coral’s fleet, two findings upheld in the final audit report.

While the audit was ongoing, an upgrade of the city’s hard and software got under way, with Cape Coral pledging around $43,000 to install the new system, which includes wireless technology.

SCI is installing the new system.

How the process works

Draft audit reports are a normal part of the process, according to City Auditor Margaret Krym.

The earliest draft report is dated May 31 of this year. Public records requests showed eight drafts were written prior to the final draft that was presented to council on June 20.

Krym said city management is supposed to be part of that process, is allowed to comment on drafts, offer input or disagree with any of the findings.

The fuel audit fell squarely under the standards set forth by the federal government, she said, and the final audit is fair, complete and objective.

The city manager and city auditor had discussions during the process, but the final report in no way “covered up” any information, Krym said. The City Auditor’s office falls under city council’s authoritative purview, not the city manager’s.

“We share it with management… but that’s not to say that management has the ability to alter what’s being reported,” Krym added.

At least one council member wished that more emphasis was put on Sgt. Dye’s findings.

Marty McClain said Dye’s computer expertise was instrumental in discovering what he believes were software issues.

If software functioning was the reason for what the early investigation flagged as major discrepancies in the city’s fuel management practices, McClain said the city should have put the system upgrade work out for bid to other vendors instead of automatically giving it to SCI.

“We’re being told this is a control issue but we have to remember those controls were sold to us from this vendor,” McClain said. “We should have researched qualified vendors and gone out for bid.”

Councilmember Pete Brandt doesn’t think any information was concealed between the early and final drafts of the fuel audit.

Brandt agrees that no missing fuel has been identified, but feels the audit and the work of Towler did pointed out the lack of accountability when it came managing the city’s fuel.

Brandt points to previous administrations as the cause.

“The bottom line is this just another example of bad management controls,” Brandt said. “To say our city manager is not qualified just makes me sick.”

Mayor John Sullivan, who has an Information Technology background, said he is not as concerned with any alleged issues with the software but instead the city’s fuel consumption, which was identified by Towler as having increased nearly 100 percent since 2006, despite a reduction in staffing and fleet levels.

The mayor said that that is the only question that no one is asking and was not addressed in the fuel audit.

“We paid for twice as much in 2010 than we paid in 2006. I think we need to find out why we used twice as much fuel,” Sullivan said.

Now that the new fuel management system is being installed, Sullivan said that he’d like to see quarterly reports from the city manager regarding the fuel use.

The city may be able to tell by March next year if its fuel use has decreased, the mayor said.

“I have not heard anyone else ask this question. This will tell the real story,” Sullivan added.

The bottom line for the city auditor is that a new system, a new way of tracking the city’s fuel use, will be in place and that is a positive development.

The city had not run fuel reports “in years,” Krym said, and at the end of this process, however political it may have become, the city will come out the other end with a new way to protect its assets.

Was fuel missing? Stolen? Did someone take a can of gas home for their lawnmower?

The audit did not answer those questions, she said, but instead was part of a process that upgraded the way the city accounts and distributes its fuel.

“At the end of the day, we’ll be able to keep people who weren’t supposed to get fuel from getting it. And we’ll be getting fuel to those who are supposed to have it and need it,” she said.