How many years will city taxpayers suffer toxic mismanagement?

Michael Gold, Editor

For more than 18-years, Historic City News has reported on fraud, waste and abuse in local government when others were reluctant, or afraid, to do so.  When we started looking deeper into the relationships between citizen board members and those officials who appointed them, we identified questionable profiteering at taxpayer’s expense.  Our publication took a lot of heat from crooked politicians and more than a dozen tyrants who had become very comfortable spending your money — without your oversight.

Although taxpayers love us and honest candidates for political office wear our endorsement like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, our mission to hold public officials accountable to the public only succeeds when citizens do their job.  You must go to the polls to throw out the politicians who seem more concerned about representing themselves and their cronies, than representing the voters who put them in office.  With the exception of the mayor, we haven’t seen that in the last 10-years.  City voters keep returning the same tired faces to the city commission year after year.

We watch with surprise, disappointment, and disgust as management inside the City of St Augustine becomes more and more toxic.  Anyone can make a mistake, but at some point, especially when you are talking about public funds, the public expects our well-paid professional staff to be held accountable for sloppy, wasteful and highly suspect decisions.  We are way past that point with City Manager John Regan.

John Patrick Regan Sr has worked for the City of St Augustine since May 26, 1998.  He turned 52-years-old in February.  As city manager, he is paid $164,110.59 annually, plus enhanced employee benefits.  He is one of three city officials hired directly by the city commission.  Three of the five voting commissioners are needed to hire or terminate his employment.  About 360 other city employees, including all the department heads, police chief, firefighters, public works, clerical, accounting, and even the meter readers owe their job to Regan as they are hired directly, or indirectly, by him.

Historic City News internal dossier

This city manager is predictably attracted to the latest “shiny new thing”.  Since we first learned about the current spending bonanza in 2015, we’ve been following the latest Regan “poor decision”.  He has been allowed to act without oversight or public accountability for too long.  It has only emboldened his arrogance towards citizens.  At issue in this case is the unnecessary and overly expensive replacement of city water meters.  The project under Regan costs $4.7 million-dollars compared to an estimated $1.5 million-dollar alternative that was never considered.

In another example of poor decision making, the Regan appointee as Deputy Director of Public Works and the ADA Compliance Officer for the non-compliant city is a professional geologist, Todd Grant.  The Director of Public Works, Michael Cullum, is one of those other professional engineers.  Regan had Grant introduce a presentation to the city commission making the case to engage a first-generation meter reading technology company for a “pilot” on automatic water meters.

Project Background

  • COSA Meter Profile: 13,000 accounts, 19 different water meter brands
  • Meters over 20-years-old: 26% (useful meter life is 20 years)
  • Commercial meters account for 12% of total water revenue.
  • Smaller meters account for 88% of water revenue.
  • The failed or stuck meters account for 42% of revenue
  • The AMR business case rested on faulty assumptions that the age of existing meters and lack of standardization meant revenue loss, water leakage, and significantly higher labor cost that could justify the cost of refitting to fancy new meters.

Analysis results presented June 11, 2018

  • The “Pilot Program” was completed in the fall of 2016 but the results were not reported to the Commission until June of 2018.
  • The results of the “Pilot Program” did not validate the initial assumptions.
  • The claim made to the commission in September of 2016 was that a larger sample of data justified the expansion of the “Pilot Program” to “Phase 1”.
  • The results of “Phase 1” did not validate the initial assumptions.
  • The bench testing showed that 35% of the smaller meters and 86% of the larger commercial meters were either “failed” or “stuck”.
  • There was no explanation as to why a routine review of billing had not detected the billing errors.
  • The choice of investing in automation-versus-distribution was not in the best interests of businesses or the City residents.
  • With over 40-miles of water delivery pipe needing replacement, this decision flies in the face of common sense, not to mention common financial standards
  • The estimated $2.5 million-dollar difference between choosing conventional meter replacement over 5-years would have replaced two miles of distribution lines at $1.2 million-dollars per mile
  • This delay and obfuscation allowed the project to go forward to the “point of no return”.
  • This example highlights the lack of management ability to evaluate capital investments.
  • Meter age, throughput, brand, and billing route showed no significant correlation to water meter accuracy or revenue opportunity.
  • The truth was not reported to the Commission.
  • Data showed project assumption to be false.

Regan is an engineer, not a public administrator.  The city already employs a half-dozen other professional engineers.  I’ve often heard that a camel is just a horse designed by an engineer.  Regan is often so preoccupied with whether or not he can do something, that he forgets to question if he should.  The time has come for the City of St Augustine to search for a professional public administrator, not another professional engineer.

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