Our Amazon.com Problem

Anyone following my recent posts knows the City has a problem with proper usage of the VISA procurement cards.

Below, we have a door opener purchased by Fire Captain Bil Gallio and shipped to the family business — Gallio Motorsports.  Given the nature of the item, this may have been a legitimate City purchase and shipped to the wrong address.

 

Fullerton doesn’t have a centralized ordering point, or a designated person, for Amazon.com purchases.  Instead, employees order items for the City using individual Amazon.com accounts, which for most people, are probably used for personal items as well.  That means home and work purchases are co-mingled together in the same account.

That could easily explain items shipped to the wrong address if the employee making the purchase forgets to override the defaults stored by Amazon.

Lest anyone think I’m constantly throwing rocks without ever offering a solution, here you go:  Amazon Business for Government  Nearly every instance of improper spending could have been prevented using that tool.

Grant Funding: No Accountability

Fullerton’s increasing reliance on grant funding comes with one consistent problem — poor or no accountability across the board.  Last week, I wrote about the Police Department’s $3900 mini-freezer and was called out in the comments section as follows:

It was paid for with money from the state from Prop 69 you morons. You can purchase items that are related to dna collection. Google is your friend.

The commenter was likely referring to this notation where Captain Siko wrote “Prop 69 grant.”

Captain Siko, and the person leaving the comment, are both wrong.

They charged the freezer to special subprogram 6188, which is the Justice Assistance Grant 2016.  The page below is from the Chart of Accounts posted to the City website.

The Justice Assistance Grant is Federal funding offered to state and local law enforcement for various purposes.  JAG awards are not at all related to Prop 69 revenues.

Fullerton’s share of the funding comes via the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, who is charged with managing compliance.  No lawyer is needed to see that Fullerton has a compliance problem.  The full agreement can be found here but I’m going to post a few snippets below.

2. SUBGRANTEE shall be reimbursed with said JAG funds only for expenditures
necessary to acquire personal property or equipment as set forth in Attachment A hereto
[hereinafter called “grant property and equipment”] or to perform such other grant functions, if
any, for which Attachment A specifies that SUBGRANTEE may utilize grant funds.

8. By executing this Agreement, SUBGRANTEE agrees to comply with and be fully
bound by this Agreement and all applicable provisions of Attachments A, B, C, D and E
hereto. SUBGRANTEE shall notify COUNTY immediately upon discovery that it has not
abided or no longer will abide by any applicable provision of this Agreement or Attachments A,
B, C, D or E hereto.

15. COUNTY may terminate this Agreement and be relieved of the payment of any
consideration to SUBGRANTEE if a) SUBGRANTEE fails to perform any of the covenants
contained in this Agreement, including the applicable terms of Attachments A, B, C, D and E
hereto, at the time and in the manner herein provided, or b) COUNTY loses funding under the
grant. In the event of termination, COUNTY may proceed with the work in any manner
deemed proper by COUNTY.

Now would be a good time (more…)

Need a pen?

Need a pen or pencil?  How about a coloring book, a fire badge sticker, or a hat to keep your head dry from the rain this weekend?

I guess it’s a good thing Fullerton is swimming in surplus cash.  Oh, wait…

Nearly $1,700 for this stuff despite it being known all year long that we’re in a budget crisis.  The entire amount was charged to General Fund accounts.

 

Useless Conferences

I love going to conferences!

 

New procurement card policies are being implemented at City Hall this week.  That’s a good start and something to be cautiously optimistic about.

Until such changes extend to the merits of things like conferences and travel, any such reform will be of limited value because it’s all interrelated.  Employees from all departments have had a reputation of being sent to conferences, staying for a couple hours, then skipping out on the rest to play tourist, play golf, or be entertained.  Some have joked about these trips being “paycations” — as in the City pays them to go on vacation.

CalNENA is the California chapter of the National Emergency Number Association, a trade organization for 911 dispatchers.  Without any consideration for the City’s bleak financial outlook, or the value of such a trip, the Police Department sent two dispatchers to the annual conference in San Diego.  That shouldn’t be too expensive, right?

$1,467 for hotel rooms and parking, $1,200 for conference registration, $93.84 for mileage reimbursement, and probably $4,000 to 6,000 in wages, benefits, and potential overtime paid out to other employees to cover their absences.  Their union agreement has a provision that considers it a full workweek if they attend training for 3+ consecutive days.  I assume that provision applies here.

Ballpark cost of attending = $6,500 to 8,500.  So what did the City of Fullerton gain from this trip?  You tell me…

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$3900 Mini Freezer

Another day, and another reason to question the fiscal insanity at the City of Fullerton.  The Police Department paid over $3900 for this freezer which is a mere 3.9 cubic feet in size.  The typical residential refrigerator-freezer holds anywhere from 18 to 25 cubic feet, so this unit is far smaller than it appears.

The police will be quick to say how essential this is to preserve forensic evidence like DNA.  I can’t fault them for buying a unit with temperature alarms, but you know what’s funny?  Medical grade freezers used by pharmacies, similar in size and features, cost anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 the price, maybe even less.

Wasteful spending is nothing new around here, but this serves as a great opportunity to look at the City’s flawed procurement policies.

The freezer was not purchased by the City’s Purchasing Agent.  The Police Department doesn’t think the City’s procurement rules apply to them, so they bypass City Hall in most cases, and order whatever they want themselves.

“Reasonable effort shall be made to obtain three or more competitive bids for procurement of goods or services.”  This sounds like a good policy except that it allows a City employee to solicit bids for their preferred piece of equipment, and preferred manufacturer, no matter how unnecessary or overpriced.

They didn’t get bids for a small freezer sufficient to store forensic evidence.  They got bids for this specific Follett FZR4P-00-00 freezer, which was already leaps and bounds more expensive than comparable options from other manufacturers.  Basically, we acquired the Mercedes-Benz of freezers, but that’s all fine and dandy because the Police Department got three bids as specified in the procurement policy.

There’s no excuse to overpay because somebody is too lazy to research alternatives perfectly acceptable in a similar work environment, and yet, the City of Fullerton does this over and over and over again.

Our Wallets Are Getting Tased

Axon, formerly known as Taser International, is the manufacturer of tasers and body cameras worn by officers of the Fullerton Police Department.

In 2014, Felz and Hughes went before the City Council to beg for $650,534 over a five-year period to pay for body cameras from Taser International.  The actual cost will far exceed that amount, but that’s unfortunately typical of the false assurances made by those two.  You can read the agenda letter here where Dan Hughes did his best impression of a salesman for Taser International.  There was never any competitive bidding process for those body cameras, which is obscene given the large price tag.

Fast forward to this past June.  Gary Sirin of the Fullerton Police Department was sent to the Axon Accelerate Conference Fleece-A-Thon in Scottsdale, AZ.  We paid $899 for him to attend the conference, $580.87 for lodging at the Westin, and it appears another $363.19 for travel expenses.  I presume he was also on the clock and being paid for his time.

So what actually took place at this conference?  Axon did a write up themselves that talks about demonstrating new products and strategies to prevent disclosure of body camera footage to the public.  Once again, an insulting waste of City funds.

The Police Department apparently never got the memo about Fullerton having a fiscal crisis, or else they just don’t care.

I think it’s the latter, but in any event, these ridiculous conferences all over the United States and Canada on the City dime need to stop.

Lemmon Head

Wouldn’t it be nice if every City employee consistently set the bar for professionalism?

Michael Lemmon, of the Fullerton Fire Department, thought it was perfectly okay to purchase these inappropriate mugs using taxpayer money on his City-issued VISA card.

A couple months later, Michael Lemmon decided the Fire Department needed more coffee mugs, so he purchased these — again on the taxpayer’s dime:

 

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Pay The Lady: Nepotism At Its Worst

Today’s ethical lapse comes to us courtesy of the Fullerton Fire Department.  See those shirts pictured above?  Fire Captain Brian Seymour ordered nine of them for some kind of “Peer Support”.

Once the use tax is factored in, we paid about $40 per shirt.

Check out the reconciliation report.  One can clearly see the purchaser was Brian Seymour.

Below, we see the invoice from the vendor, Linksoul, where the salesperson was Mary Seymour.  Wait a minute, that must be a coincidence.  No City employee would be foolish enough to use taxpayer money to purchase unnecessary clothing from a relative’s clothing business, right?

 

Mary Seymour is the Fire Captain’s wife.  Linksoul is a clothing company started by her brother.  A couple minutes with Google was enough to locate this article from Carlsbad Magazine with a quote about nepotism that couldn’t be more ironic under the circumstances.

Hinman, W. (2014, March & April). The Man Makes The Clothes. Carlsbad Magazine, 38-43.

So while the City of Fullerton prepares to be crushed under the weight of CalPERS pension obligations, we have people like Brian Seymour not just wasting our money — he’s sending cash to his wife’s family business.

Brian Seymour made $294,761 last year in pay and benefits.  Why didn’t he pay for these shirts with his own money?

Did anyone make him reimburse the City?   Whose idea were these shirts, anyway?  Perhaps most important is why didn’t it occur to Brian Seymour that sending money to the family business was improper, and likely a violation of City policy and/or State Law?

Thanks to a certain FFD employee for bringing this to our attention.  You know who you are.

Bad Neighbor!

Would you give neighbors access to your bank account?

No? That would probably come as a shock to some at City Hall where (at least) three City of Brea employees have been issued VISA procurement cards belonging to the City of Fullerton.

Fullerton and Brea have a shared Fire Department command staff.  The Fire Chief, Deputy Chiefs, Division Chiefs, Battalion Chiefs, and an EMS manager perform services for both cities, even though they remain employees of the City where they came from.  Those from Brea have been given the Fullerton VISA cards.  Now, I can hear some people uttering phrases like “so what,” and “who cares,” and “what’s the problem?”  I can help you with that.

Fullerton Fire Station 3 on Acacia Ave was the recipient of five La-Z-Boy recliners, on the City VISA card.  The purchaser?  Chris Guerrero, a Brea employee.  The supervisor approving the purchase?  Kathy Schaefer, another Brea employee.  And where did the money come from?  Fullerton.

The receipt raises another question because Engine 3, based at this fire station, only has a crew of three.  So why purchase five recliners?

I’d bet money the extra recliners are for the CARE Ambulance employees based at Station 3.  Nothing in the housing agreement between the City and CARE Ambulance talks about furnishings, so the recliners appear to be a gift.

A gift from Brea employees using Fullerton’s money.

Faux Cost Reductions

The City Council was warned earlier this year that (long overdue) changes at CalPERS to tackle pension debts would spell fiscal disaster for Fullerton.  This problem is very much real and will be quite painful in the years to come.

What isn’t real was the feigned appearance of City Hall trying to cut expenses.  Truth be told, nobody at the City seems to care.

Remember the Hillcrest Park ‘Pine Forest Stairs’ ceremony, which lasted maybe 30 minutes, and was attended by forty or fifty people?

The balloons you see above cost the taxpayers $776.51.  Were they necessary?  Of course not.

Meanwhile, at other locations across town, the never-ending waste from Parks and Recreation continues unabated.  $350 for two hours of face painting and a clown to blow up balloons.

Another $450 down the drain for a game of Human Foosball.

These aren’t unusual expenditures — this stuff goes on all the time.

So this is the cue for [new City Manager] Ken Domer to step up and make this nonsense go away.  It’s also a cue for the City Council to hold him accountable in that regard.