Friday, February 17, 2017

Trash Audit: War of the Words

Investigative journalist Wayne Dolchefino traveled to San Angelo to ask officials about the internal audit conducted on unauthorized fees charged by Republic Services, formerly Trashaway.  The unauthorized fees impacted commercial clients beginning in 2004.

Two city officials referenced the audit in June 2014.

Mahaffey told the Standard-Times that the audit report would not be made public.

City Councilwoman Charlotte Farmer said that the audit committee reviewed the findings of the audit of the commercial charges and there will be a press conference held by Republic sometime this week to announce the findings and the resolution. 
San Angelo's Public Information Office Anthony Wilson officially started on September 1, 2012.  At the time he told the Standard Times:

"We have a responsibility to inform our citizenry what we're doing and why we're doing it. While I believe we deliver an extraordinary level of service, we don't always effectively share that story with the public we serve. We'll aim to tell that story through every available means."
Dolchefino wants answers on the 2014 internal city audit referenced by city officials, the one conducted before Republic hired an accounting firm.  In the video Wilson talks trash audit, the one conducted by a forensic accountant on behalf of Republic Services after the city effectively re-upped their contract.

Forensic Accounting:  the use of accounting skills to investigate fraud or embezzlement and to analyze financial information for use in legal proceedings.
Wilson said Republic's forensic audit is available via the fraudulent billing lawsuit filed in Tom Green County Court, a case in which the city has no part.

That means the city has no audit at all, neither the one referenced in June 2014 by the city's internal auditor and Councilwoman Charlotte Farmer nor the forensic accounting audit conducted on behalf of the city's longtime trash vendor.  It does have a one page investigation, which can hardly be construed as an audit.

The Standard Times, San Angelo Live and this blog advised city officials, elected and paid to conduct an investigation and share it with the public before acting on a long term trash/landfill contract.  I wrote in June 2014:

It seems prudent to extend the Republic contract for six months, have an outside audit investigation, hear those results and corresponding legal considerations and based on those findings consider whether to rebid the trash/landfill contract.  Moving forward with many questions unanswered feels like a rush to renew.  Unfortunately, that would fit with both language and actions by Council and staff the last ten months.

 It's time to take a step back, not rush forward
In July 2014 I reiterated:

I stand by my original suggestion that the new contract be put on hold, the city hire an outside firm to investigate this long term overcharge (under city leaders Will Wilde, Ricky Dickson and Shane Kelton) and share the results of that investigation with the public.  What communications occurred between these gentlemen and Trashaway-Republic on unauthorized charges?
City leaders chose to go ahead with promises to hold Republic accountable.   I don't believe the city can be more hands off in a potential fraud case perpetrated by a sole source vendor over a decade's time.  Republic gets to clean up their mess while city officials stick their heads in the sand, pulling it out every now and then to admonish those asking questions. 

It's the city's opportunity to effectively share how public officials ever audited Republic with those they serve.  Wilson's latest video is way off target.

1 comment:

Jim Turner said...

Two quick points that I will expand on later.

First point is that records (like this audit) filed with the a court as part of court proceedings are not subject to the public information act (Texas equivalent to the Freedom of Information act) They are often not required be released to the general public by the court, especially if there is still litigation going on. Court records are mostly released under what amounts to a need to know standard. Republic, which paid for the audit, can release it but that's not the same as the court releasing it. A record filed in court proceedings is not the same as a record available under the open meetings act.

Second, just because a record is filed with another government agency does not relieve City Hall of their responsibility to provide that information to the public. The public information specifically states that in section 552.002. City Hall has the legal responsibility to process all public information requests to completion, and can't pass the buck to another organization.

Last point is that this was not an audit of contract compliance or performance which is what City Hall should provide. It was a special audit that only addressed the amount of refunds due to Republics commercial and industrial customers. It did not address any additional issues. It was provided as expert testimony in court proceedings and only addressed that narrow specific area. It was not a general or complete audit and is not broad enough to show whether or not there were problems with contract compliance and legal obligations on the part of Republic services and City Hall.

My gut feeling is that City Hall is afraid to have a full audit. From all the information I've seen and heard on this City Hall was asleep at the switch and let the solid waste and landfill contracts pretty much run on autopilot and didn't really do adequate oversight and record keeping. I would love to be proven wrong but don't see much likely hood of that happening.