In announcing her department’s latest audit report, City Controller Wendy Greuel accused the mayor and City Council of being “asleep at the switch” when it came to managing fuel usage for city vehicles.
That is a true statement, but incomplete. First of all, the mayor has never been close to any switch in the city, in a state of sleep or otherwise. Management is not a term in his vocabulary.
Greuel, herself, was also snoozing.
The problem was first reported by former City Controller Laura Chick in 2009. Greuel was still on the City Council, serving on the Budget and Finance Committee. Chick reported problems with the system and was highly critical of management’s lack of involvement and scrutiny:
“Beginning in 1999, the city paid a vendor in excess of $12 million to implement and maintain a fuel automation system. However, departments are not using the system’s capabilities to monitor fuel usage. If they had, they could have identified the extent of high risk transactions, as well as data inaccuracies being generated by the system.”
After the city invested in the system, the mayor, department managers and members of the City Council should have followed up to see if the system was working as expected, even without an audit. After all,we are talking about 14 million gallons of annual gasoline usage. Even at 2009 prices, that came to $28 million for the year – and prices were heading higher.
Chick’s audit was released March 29, 2009. There was still time to modify the Fiscal Year 2009/2010 budget, which was not approved until June 2, 2009. Slapping a 20% cut to the fuel budget, or about $5 million, until adequate controls were in place would have been a reasonable measure given the history of lax management oversight. Beats the hell out of layoffs or transferring staff to the DWP.
Greuel and Budget Chair Bernard Parks should have insisted that a cut be allocated among the departments. Too much work, I guess. Maybe they had to top off their tanks.
It gets worse.
Greuel had Chick’s roadmap. She knew the city was bleeding gas when she stepped into the role of City Controller in July 2009, but waited three years to follow-up. Pursuing an important issue already raised by your predecessor just doesn’t generate the same publicity as something developed under your own watch, so I’m not surprised she let it ride .
An audit is only as effective as subsequent actions to correct deficiencies. Greuel is only interested in pumping out reports claiming largely unsubstantiated savings. She does not apply pressure on the mayor, his department managers, and council members to implement timely changes.
Greuel has turned the Office of the Controller into a personal stage for her mayoral campaign. She knows all to well that people react to juicy findings rather than actual results.
That’s our fault for letting her get away with it.
I hope her opponents in the mayoral field don’t.
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