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Pursue full information into fuel report findings

November 26, 2010
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Cape Coral City Council has received its first report from a pair of "organizational effectiveness consultants" hired by City Manager Gary King to assist in a review of municipal operations.

Bill Towler, hired for three months at $39 per hour shortly after Mr. King was appointed, was given the task of reviewing matters related to the city's fleet management operations. According to his report, he concentrated on how the city receives and disburses fuel for its fleet of vehicles and gas-run machinery and equipment.

Mr. Towler states that he found numerous problems.

The city does not properly monitor fuel received or fuel disbursed and equipment intended to provide a system of controls is antiquated and, in some cases, is missing, is broken, or has been bypassed, he said.

Meanwhile, fuel consumption has "increased by over 360,000 gallons or nearly 100% since FY 2006, representing approximately one million dollars in additional fuel costs" even as the city has reduced staff, fleet size and work-equipment usage, Mr. Towler states.

He listed numerous recommendations to correct the "unmonitored receiving of fuels" and the "mediocre safeguards for the prevention of unwanted loss."

Both Mr. King and council took the findings seriously, as well they should.

Mr. Towler's shotgun approach nicked four moving target areas: Fuel receipt, fuel disbursement, monitoring software used, and procedural system controls.

Mr. King has asked the company from which the city purchased its monitoring equipment to check that equipment to see if it is functioning as it should be. He also extended Mr. Towler's contract until April so his review can continue.

Meanwhile, Cape Coral City Council OK'd an audit and the city's interim internal auditor has suggested asking Clerk of the Court Charlie Green's Office to conduct that financial review.

That's a great recommendation and one we heartily endorse.

The city attorney's office and that of Mr. Green have drafted an interlocal agreement that would, essentially, outsource the audit to the Clerk of the Courts Office, at cost, if council approves the contract.

Given that the city auditor resigned just recently, that's the best deal the city will get.

Take it. Get it on the council agenda ASAP and get it passed.

As Mr. Green succinctly points out, it's what his people do and it's an outside look untainted by either "command influence" or profit motive.

An audit by Mr. Green's Office also can be scheduled within a reasonable time frame so the city can learn as quickly as possible the scope of its problem - assuming it has one - and whether those issues are procedural or criminal in nature, both or neither.

The review of the Cape's monitoring system also is wise.

We will add one to the list - a prompt staff response to Mr. Towler's report.

The Breeze made a public records request for staff comment to both Mr. Towler's weeks-long inquiry and his report last Monday after listening to Mr. Towler's presentation, reading his highly critical report, and noting the lack of staff explanation. We have yet to receive any such records.

Mr. King should order a response.

He, and council, may accept any explanations submitted or reject the compilation in its entirety but without written and specific staff response for council's - and the public's - consideration, Mr. Towler's report (which indicates interviews with staffers on various levels but little more than his analysis of what he was told) is incomplete.

Should Mr. King not view this as necessary, council should require this information from his office, including copies of current policies designed to safeguard the system and why upgrades to the monitoring equipment - proffered at least twice before - were rejected and by whom.

This sort of response is standard business practice. It's also the flip side of the what-the-city/staff-does-not-do coin.

Tap Mr. Green's office for the audit, continue to evaluate the physical system of controls in place and ask staff some basic accountability questions.

Given the scope of Mr. Towler's findings, compiling the information needed for the most complete picture possible is mandatory.

- Breeze editorial



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