Tuesday, October 16, 2012

City's Furniture Fiasco Spoils Valenzuela's Debut

San Angelo City Manager Daniel Valenzuela's debut City Council meeting had a $100,000 furniture fiasco.  Council documents showed Water Czar Will Wilde reviewed the request on October 5, 2012.  On paper it looked like a simple budget amendment.  The live meeting indicated otherwise.

Item 4 concerned authorizing the purchase of wall systems, furniture, filing and storage system, and equipment for City Hall for $100,659,68 from West Office Interiors.

Councilman Dwain Morrison said the city authorized an additional $200,000 for office supplies, and now there was another $100,000, and he wanted to know what was going on.

Finance Director Michael Dane said the previously approved money was for the individual departments to purchase furniture. These moneys come from a different fund, Dane said.
City of San Angelo purchasing policies apply to the various buckets of money under Council's control.  

Purchases in amounts of $50,000 or greater – are subject to the requirements of the competitive bid process unless specifically exempted by State Law.
There are no furniture bids in the first or second half of 2012.  Returing to today's council meeting:

"I clearly remember them asking, 'Is this all?'" Councilwoman Charlotte Farmer said about the previous $200,000. She said she wanted to know more details about the new money.

City Water Utilities Director Will Wilde said the funds included the furniture in his department.

Dane said department heads had to come to council when asking for more than $50,000.
Note the dance here, given Dane and Wilde are the two men with information to fulfill Councilwoman Farmer's desire for details.  The council packet showed:

"$100,659.68 budgeted in Water Operating Fund."   
If funds had actually been budgeted and bids received, a simple council motion could release $100,000 for the furniture purchase and installation.   Yet, this wasn't the case.

"But this is after the fact?" Farmer said.

Dane said the furniture had already been installed, but the vendor hadn't been paid.
That brings us to the next problem the City faced under its purchasing policies:

The City of San Angelo is subject to the State Prompt Payment Act, which requires payment within thirty (30) days of the receipt of both a valid invoice and the acceptance of goods and services. The thirty-day period begins when the invoice is received or when goods or services are accepted, whichever is the latest. 
The goods had been accepted and the city was on the hook to make good in thirty days.  Council mostly let Wilde and Dane skate without a public lashing.

Councilman Fredd Adams said he didn't like how things had been done, but that the purchases should be approved. He did warn staff to not have the situation happen again.

This debacle not only fouled Daniel Valenzuela's City Manager debut, it silenced two captains of industry (New & Hirshfeld), an entrepreneur (Alexander) and the city attorney, (inferred from local news reports).  I'll watch the tape to hear what city leaders, elected and staff, really said. 

If it went down as reported, Water Chief Will Wilde is clearly in charge.  That's a valuable lesson for a new city manager, who has ready access to who signed the purchase order.

Nevertheless, Public Information Officer Anthony Wilson has a stink bomb with which to contend.  How can this story be rewritten to hide inattention, with possible incompetence or outright hubris?

Update 10-21-12:  The Standard Times reported City Manager Daniel Valenzuela said he is "looking into what went wrong.  I'm currently looking into the situation.  It is something that you don't want to happen in your first council."

1 comment:

Jim Turner said...

I've been to most of the council meetings for the last 8 years and this is the first time I've seen something like this has happen here. This isn't Chicago or Dallas after all. The purchase was not done legally. First, it was too large for to be done without councils approval. Second, it violated rules that require competitive bidding. Third, they took delivery of a product that they had no authority to purchase. Then it was put in the consent agenda of the last agenda prepared by Mr. Dane, not the new city manager. No accounting was done for where the old furniture that the new furniture replaced went outside of "to other city offices". Mr. Dane was right that this wasn't paid for by general fund dollars. It was paid for by the water fund as in this is another reason your water bill is high.

To be fair to the new City Manager, he didn't prepare this agenda, Dane did. He was blind sided by this unauthorized expenditure. He didn't really have much of a chance to react to this as council members had torn into them. Will have to wait and see what happens long term. The individuals involved have been with the city for years. They know better. They tried to sneak something by and got caught. I expected better from a department head and the finance director.