IG Review finds management practices, not fraud, at root of conflict
| Palm Beach Daily News
A Palm Beach County Inspector General’s Office investigation found no evidence that a contractor fraudulently billed the town for the installation and maintenance of crime surveillance cameras.
The town asked the office in August 2019 to investigate its concerns that it paid Johnson Controls Inc. (JCI) for work that was not completed.
The inspector general’s office, in its Sept. 22 report, concluded that the town’s project management practices were largely responsible for confusion over billing issues.
“Although we did not find clear evidence of fraud, it does appear that the parties disagree on their interpretation and understanding of the terms of their agreement related to performance and billing,” the report states.
However, the IG’s office said, the investigation revealed “issues that we believe should be addressed: one concerns the town’s project management procedures, and the other concerns the town and JCI’s contract procedures in general.”
The town hired JCI in 2012 and agreed to a payment schedule for it to install and maintain a security camera and surveillance system in different areas of town. JCI was permitted to submit bills for its progress on multiple work sites.
Finance Director Jane Le Clainche said Friday the town paid JCI more than $2.1 million since 2013 for the infrastructure and annual maintenance and repairs.
The work still wasn’t complete when the town terminated its relationship with JCI more than a year ago, Town Manager Kirk Blouin said.
Blouin said the camera surveillance system is a large, technologically sophisticated infrastructure. The work was complicated and the installation and maintenance has involved many different people, working for JCI and for the town, over the last decade, he said.
“There was a lack of progress,” said Blouin, former public safety director who became town manager in February. 2018. “As town manager, I inquired … why the work didn’t seem to be moving fast enough. There was a lack of accounting for the money.”
The inspector general’s office reviewed invoices, signed contracts, purchase orders, meeting notes, emails, billing analyses performed by the town and JCI, and other records. It also interviewed personnel from the town and JCI.
The report noted that town purchasing department personnel told the Office of the Inspector General they had concerns about the town’s oversight before Brett Madison, water resources division manager in the Public Works Department, became the project manager.
“Specifically, they believe it was a problem that the town’s initial project manager [retired police captain Curtis Krauel] may not have possessed the core competencies for project management. They said that [the] town paid JCI because the former police officer [Krauel] prematurely approved JCI’s invoices.”
The office noted in its report that Krauel declined to be interviewed as part of the investigation. Krauel joined the police department in 1997 and rose to the rank of captain in 2011. He was named the town’s employee of the year in 2016. He retired October 2019.
The report had two recommendations.
First, the town should make sure its project managers are qualified to oversee the projects for which they are responsible. “These skills should include the ability to determine what benchmarks trigger payment under town contracts,” the report said.
Second, the town should make sure its contracts “clearly explain billing terms, that all parties managing the contract review and understand the terms, and that they follow those terms when approving invoices for payment.”
Blouin said his conclusion, based on the inspector general’s findings, is that nothing inappropriate occurred.
Over time, people on both sides moved on to other projects or employers, causing a lack of continuity that may have contributed to the confusion, he said.
“There was a lack of communication and maybe a lack of oversight with some of the people who used to work here,” Blouin said.
Blouin said the surveillance system has worked very well. The town has more than 100 cameras throughout the island that use a sophisticated license plate recognition technology, and software that enables the cameras to communicate with one another.
“It has certainly had a substantial impact on our ability to solve crime and therefore to prevent crime from repeat offenders,” Blouin said.
Before JCI was hired, police had a few cameras on the island but no unified system. The original master plan for the system that exists today is about 90 percent complete. But the system is always evolving.
“It will never be finished,” he said. “It’s almost like a living, breathing thing. There will always be enhancements and software that needs to be upgraded.”
The system has proven to be expensive, but Blouin estimated that perhaps $500,000 of the cost has been met through donations from town residents and from the Police and Fire Foundation.