April 7, 2014 10:12:29 AM
A study conducted by the city's project managing firm -- one that lead to placing GPS trackers on city trucks to track their whereabouts -- revealed a potential waste of more than $1 million in the city's public works department.
One GPS tracking device revealed that a city-owned truck traveled 88 to 102 miles in one day. Another showed a vehicle once idled for 43 minutes. The study also showed that the last inventory taken of public works department equipment occurred in October 2012. The study also revealed that multiple department employees were tardy on a regular basis, with some staying on the clock later in the day in order to make up minutes missed from being late.
Senior project manager Robyn Eastman of J5 Broaddus presented the study's findings to Columbus councilmen last week during an executive session. Following the presentation, councilmen agreed to put 16 GPS systems on public works vehicles to track the location of public works employees. The devices cost $16 a month.
Eastman spent three months on the study, according to councilman Charlie Box. Eastman found the efficiency rating of the department over a five-week period to be 45 percent, nearly half the 88 percent he considered an acceptable percentage. Box said Eastman had placed GPS locators on two trucks and followed them to conclude the results of his study.
Eastman did not respond to calls for comment for this story.
The Dispatch was told by Eastman's assistant that David Armstrong, the city's chief operations officer, told Eastman to not comment on the matter.
Columbus public works director Casey Bush said he will continue to work with Eastman to improve efficiency in his department.
"I think the GPS systems will be a help for the department as far keeping track of the whereabouts of most of my guys and to help with efficiency," Bush said. "I'm doing a lot more inventory checks to make sure our inventory is taken care of."
Box noted that he was against hiring J5 Broaddus last July when councilmen approved to do so. The city had not previously had a project manager position and councilmen voted to pay the firm a $90,000 a year -- along with 6 percent of construction costs for projects such as renovation of the Trotter Convention Center. But Box said he appreciates the study's findings.
"I want to give credit where credit is due," he said. "This is a good study. If (they) can make this happen it will pay their fee plus a lot more."
Box said he proposed the possibility of privatizing public works as soon as he became a councilman. He added that the council approved the 16 GPS trackers for public works while working on this fiscal year's budget but did not move forward on them until last week. Box said it would be unfair to blame inefficiencies on recent department leadership, including Bush, who has headed the department since July.
"It's kind of a joke about how many guys it takes to put a light bulb in," Box said. "I'm not saying it's all of the public works department, but it's kind of a culture that they've developed into. I'm a big Casey Bush fan. I think he's done a great job. I think this is a mentality and a culture that's been going on so long that it's hard to break it."
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.
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