POSTED ON JULY 24, 2013:
Firing of five city workers sparks talk of GPS
There was some degree of amazement in the voice of Councilor Jack Henderson.
"If it hadn't have been for a whistleblower, these people wouldn't have gotten caught," he said, speaking to City Manager Jim Twombly at a Tulsa City Council committee meeting.
He was referring to a group of five workers, part of the city's "survey and locate" crews, who were fired in June. According to city officials, the workers clocked in for work, then headed off to another job when they were supposed to be doing city work.
Channel 2 KJRH broke the story on July 15, leading councilors to ask to visit with Twombly and also Erica Felix-Warwick, the city's director of human resources. KJRH reported that the workers' second jobs had been going on over a period of at least three months, with city officials not sure of the entire length of time they had been reporting for duty elsewhere doing work as stagehands.
"I don't say it would have never gotten caught," Twombly replied to Henderson. "If there was a pattern like this, there's going to be a drop in productivity."
But conversation at the committee meeting centered on how to prevent such deception in the future.
"It's kind of a wake-up call to supervisors that they do need to pay attention to how much their employees are accomplishing when they're out in the field like that," Twombly said.
The workers were busted by a tip on the city's ethics hotline. Trevor Acton, Daniel Anderson, Tim Blaylock, Larry Mullins and Boyd Weir lost their jobs on June 13.
Combined, they had more than 75 years of experience working as city employees. All but one of the workers earned between $30,000 and $36,000, with the longest-tenured worker, Larry Mullins, earning $51,073 after joining the city in 1974.
The city referred information to Tulsa police to review for a potential criminal investigation. According to city spokeswoman Kim MacLeod, the workers' supervisor was investigated and cleared of any wrongdoing.
Felix-Warwick noted that the city will soon be moving to an automated system to monitor employee time and attendance.
"It will allow us to be on top of ongoing issues, that we can catch trends more quickly," she said.
Officials also discussed possible GPS tracking of city-owned vehicles.
Such an idea is far from revolutionary. In 2008, the state first purchased tracking technology for its vehicle fleet.
Now, the state uses an Arizona-based company, GPS Insight, to both provide the "black box" that goes in vehicles and the software that allows supervisors to quickly see where those vehicles are in the field.
"The technology is for fleet managers to know where their vehicles are, and lots of metrics on the vehicles, like how fast they're going, if a vehicle's idling, if they're en route," said Ryan Driscoll, the company's marketing manager.
The technology can help reduce fuel costs and improve public and driver safety, Driscoll said.
"They can also use our real-time mapping, so when they log into the software, they get a big map that shows where all their vehicles are in real time," Driscoll said, adding that the software also allows managers to review the location history of a vehicle.
He said the technology also can help shield the state against false claims.
"If a taxpayer calls in and has a complaint about a state-owned vehicle that ran over their mailbox at two in the afternoon on a Friday, the fleet manager can look and see if there was even a state-owned truck" in the area, Driscoll said.
Despite the state's adoption of the technology, Driscoll said the company doesn't have any Oklahoma cities as customers, although he said the company has had contact with Tulsa officials in the past.
Elsewhere, the ethics of GPS tracking have been challenged in some circumstances. For example, the law is murky when an employee is tracked while off-duty.
Last month, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that it was wrong to track a state worker around the clock by using a GPS device in the man's personal car, even though the man had been suspected of misconduct.
Driscoll's company focuses on using the technology in fleets (though other companies market wares to individuals, with reports of GPS tracking used to catch a philandering spouse). And this market is booming, according to Driscoll. He said that among private and government fleets, roughly a quarter of the vehicles are tracked with GPS technology.
At the council committee meeting, Twombly noted that "there's a lot of positive reasons for GPS." A move for GPS tracking would require union negotiation. Cost, of course, would be a factor. Driscoll said that while estimates vary, generally the upfront cost is $300 per vehicle for the tracking hardware, then about $30 per vehicle to track it using the company's software.
For a fleet of 1,000 vehicles, the cost might be $330,000, but would lessen in subsequent years because the hardware would not need frequent replacement, Driscoll said. The city has a fleet of roughly 2,000 vehicles.
Mayoral candidate Kathy Taylor brought up the point that Mayor Dewey Bartlett also has a second job while serving as mayor. Bartlett continues to serve as president of the family business, Keener Oil & Gas Company, while drawing an annual salary of $105,000 as Tulsa's mayor in a "strong mayor" form of city government.
A quick review of similarly-sized cities shows that Bartlett isn't alone in having other job interest.
In Fort Wayne, Ind., a city with a population of about 250,000, Mayor Tom Henry earns $124,665 yearly. While campaigning for re-election, Henry, on his candidate website, described himself as president of the Gallant Group, a Fort Wayne-based insurance consulting company. A fort Wayne mayor's office spokesman clarified that Henry has a "non-working rule" witht the insurance company.
Most other mayors of similarly-sized cities who keep working in business earn less as mayor than Bartlett and also don't have the "strong mayor" role.
For example, in Virginia, Will Sessoms works as a bank president while serving as Virginia Beach mayor, a part-time position that pays $30,000 annually. In North Carolina, Nancy McFarlane leads a pharmacy company while also holding the mayor post, but also serves in a council-manager form of government. She earns $15,000 yearly in the mayor's post.
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