The City of Bryan is making it known that they are committed to righting wrongs in the Water Services Department, this after an investigation uncovered significant improprieties in the organization.
Though the city can't put a firm dollar amount on the losses, thousands were washed away by what they call a poor culture at the department.
Following requests by staff in Spring 2005 to increase Bryan's water rates, the city council asked for assurances that Water Services was running as efficiently as it should be. Over the course of three months that summer, a review was conducted by the city.
Deputy City Manager Hugh Walker's reaction to the report: "Disappointed. Anytime you start something like this, you think you'll find some little things. We found a few more things than we expected."
Some 60 problems were detailed in a report put together by those conducting that three-month probe.
The full report can be viewed using links at the bottom of this story.
Among the issues:
- Equipment that was rented for months, yet only used for days
- A low rate of completion of work orders
- Improper maintenance of equipment
- Parts, debris and gloves being left at job sites
- Workers misusing cell phones
- In one case, pornographic websites being accessed
- Poor maintenance of meters
- Parts that were bought, but not installed
In short, the city's officials say their pocketbooks and their reputation have suffered.
"I think when they read the report, they're going to read things that will make them angry," said Bryan City Manager David Watkins. "A lot of this stuff happened a year or two ago. I would mix my anger with my relief that some changes have occurred that will make sure those type of abuses don't occur."
"It was really more of a philosophical or managerial, more of a leadership issue," said Acting Public Works Director Linda Huff.
And as a result, major reorganizations were made within Water Services. Nearly two-dozen employees resigned in the wake of the report, including Division Manager Lawrence Carter, and supervisors Glenn Jones and Gerald Kubica. One employee was fired for the aforementioned pornographic material.
What the city touts now is a major change of culture in the department.
"They had become, for lack of a better term, inefficient and not as productive as most people would expect them to be," said Walker.
Prior to the change, city officials say there were 82 positions in the department. Now, there are 72.
Also notable with personnel are the changes in meter replacement teams. Before, there were two teams of two workers. Now, four individuals go out to work.
But officials say much better training has resulted in far more efficient results. For example, before, just two water taps were being replaced by a crew each day. Now, officials say it's more like half-a-dozen.
And with those aforementioned meters, some 7,000 of the residential variety were identified as being more than 10 years old, which is the recommended replacement time. Already, some 1,000 have been replaced since the report.
Those aging meters meant they read the rate payers as having used less water than they did. That means Bryan did not collect as much as they should have on thousands of meters, meaning a major loss of revenues for the city.
It was the reputation in some eyes of Bryan's Water Services as a slow and sloppy group that also hurt the city. But correcting the mechanical and the cultural problems is the top priority of a restructured department.
"Everyday, we have things in place and supervisors on top of everything," Huff said. "We're feeling extremely comfortable."
"Through the review and the changes that we've made, we've become a very efficient organization and department," Walker said, "and I think that this department is one you could put up against any department in the state, and we would be very comparable."
"Sometimes, cities are confronted with issues they just decide not to do anything," Watkins said. "Bryan took this head-on, and it's messy. You know that there's some bad stuff that was uncovered here. I'm impressed that they took it on head-on and that we've made corrective changes to make sure it doesn't happen again."
Watkins, who just recently took over as city manager, says they are actively seek a permanent Public Works director in the new year, though he has encouraged Huff to apply for the position. She currently serves as the city engineer.
Watkins also said they are looking into making Water Services its own department, taking it out from the Public Works umbrella.