Sunday, October 21, 2012

COSA Furniture Fiasco: Tale of the Tape

San Angelo's Channel 17 chronicled the extent to which paid leaders embarrassed themselves in buying and installing over $100,000 worth of furniture without City Council's approval, as required.  The players were:

  • Michael Dane, CFO and Interim City Manager when the furniture was requisitioned
  • Elizabeth Grindstaff, former Assistant City Manager in charge of the City Hall renovation project
  • Will Wilde, Water Chief and benefactor of the $100,000 furniture purchase

The discussion began with Michael Dane passing this off as a simple capital budget item, one already endorsed by council.  However, council members didn't have the same recollection and quickly honed in.  Leaders sheepishly admitted the furniture was already in use.  No one stepped forward to explain.  All pointed to Will Wilde, stating he had "the background."

In Will's world, other departments needed the Water Department's used furniture in an effort to economize.  Thus, his department required new furniture.  Will stated the purchase was "a complete replacement of furniture for the Water Department within City Hall."  The $100,000 bought furniture for two offices and one large work area with multiple work stations.

Mayor New, normally very astute, didn't jump on the prior installation.  He said to Councilwoman Farmer, "It's here because of the (purchase) amount."

Dane asked Wilde, "This is the furniture in your office?"  Wilde replied, "That's correct."

Former project leader Elizabeth Grindstaff happened to be in the audience.  She spoke at the request of council.  Below is my summary of what she offered,

The furniture budget Council approved for the project was over $200,000.   At some time "they" decided to change the furniture in their suite.  At no time did Mr. Wilde and I have a discussion over new furniture for the Water Department.  Another city employee worked with Will on this.

Who was the unnamed other city employee?  No one asked Grindstaff to clarify.

As the money came from the Water Department budget and the furniture was for the sole use of Water Department employees, it's obvious in my mind Will Wilde perpetrated this premature purchase.

One might expect Mayor New and Councilman Hirschfeld, as former captains of industry, to come unglued.  Neither did.  Hirschfeld asked about the disposition of the old water department furniture.  Dane said "We do not know what piece went where."  He thought some water department furniture had been reused elsewhere.

I recognize Michael Dane was Interim City Manager during budget preparation and he was working hard doing two jobs.  However, failure to track final use or disposal of city assets through a major project is concerning.

Councilman Hirschfeld let the sloppy handling of inventory slide.  He seconded the motion to approve the $100,000 furniture expense.

Mayor New's curious proposal was for new City Manager Daniel Valenzuela to find a $100,000 offset from the offending party's budget.  It evoked a "scales of justice" image, one with budget dollars on both sides.  . 

Entrepreneur Paul Alexander called the fiasco "an administrative fumble."  That analogy would apply if paid city leaders acted like a team.  It looked like Will Wilde declared the football his, running to the West end zone to buy furniture for his new stadium suite.

Councilman Paul Alexander stated "grace is under pressure."  He commented on Council's responsibilities to various groups, the furniture vendor and voters.  Alexander promised to talk to City Manager Daniel Valenzeula this week about the issue.

The City Attorney never said a word during this agenda item. 

The tape revealed several fracture lines.  Yet, it's amazing how little real information was shared.  Outstanding questions include:

1. Who signed the purchase order and when?  
2.  Who signed the delivery/pick up documents?  
3.  Who noted the vendor fulfilled their obligation? 
4.  Where is the $100,000 furniture item in any Council approved budget? 

The blame game continued in a Standard Times piece.  It reported Dane knew of the requisition and refused to sign it, citing the need for Council approval. As Interim City Manager Dane had the duty to bring the item to Council for vote.

"From our end the city manager's office was handling all the remodeling of City Hall," Wilde told me. "All we knew about it was we were to pick up the furniture we were given to replace it."

Who did the giving?  It's clear a power play occurred.  Someone unilaterally spent $100,000 of citizen's money without proper approvals.  The city may have a monarch within its ranks.  If that's the case, the City Manager and Council may be irrelevant.


Shorebreak said...

"The City Attorney never said a word during this agenda item."

His probable response if asked why not: "No one wanted my opinion."

PEU Report/State of the Division said...

The City Attorney is a her and council frequently asks her to clarify policy issues.

The City has a purchasing policy which was not followed. Council could've asked the attorney a number of questions, but the rush was to get this agenda item in the rear view mirror.

In the private sector New & Hirschfeld would've rolled heads for such a faux pas. At least that's my projection onto the two industry chiefs.