In The News › Officials Grilled about Cameras

Oct 10, 2008

Source: Times-Picayune

Filed under: Infrastructure, Orleans Parish

Officials Grilled about Cameras

Officials grilled about cameras
Audit checking into spending, legality
Friday, October 10, 2008
By Bruce Eggler
Staff writer

New Orleans City Council members spent more than an hour Thursday grilling Nagin administration officials about the city’s crime camera program, questioning whether the millions spent on the cameras were properly authorized and whether they have produced meaningful results.

Interim Chief Technology Officer Harrison Boyd said his predecessor, Anthony Jones, was guilty of “lapses in judgment,” and that outside consultants are doing a “forensic audit” to determine where all the money the city spent on technology went and whether anything illegal occurred.

Boyd was hired in August to clean up problems in the Management Information Services office and other technology operations that attracted frequent criticism during Jones’ 18-month tenure.

Boyd told the council’s Public Works Committee that the forensic audit is being conducted by PFM, a consulting firm that has been helping the city analyze its operations and prepare its budgets since last year, and Thacher Associates, a New York firm that helps businesses investigate suspicions of fraud.

Problems with the crime cameras, the 311 informational hotline and other programs, as well as evidence he did not have a college degree, made Jones the frequent target of criticism from Stacy Head, Shelley Midura and other council members. Jones stepped down as acting chief technology officer in August and returned to his old job in the MIS office, giving up nearly $75,000 a year in salary.

Although Head praised Boyd for being “incredibly forthcoming with information” and “candid” since he took the city job, she pressed him at length for explanations of how the contracts for LSI Research Inc., the Alabama company picked to supply the cameras, and Ciber Inc., the Colorado company hired to perform other camera-related services, ended up costing far more than expected.

Boyd said LSI has billed the city $374,000 this year for camera-related equipment and maintenance, but the money will not be paid until the city finishes reviewing the work. The firm was paid $1.8 million in 2007, although its original bid was for less than $50,000 to supply eight cameras. Its contract was allowed to expire Sept. 27.

LSI’s original contract contained an option for it also to maintain the cameras it supplied, but Boyd said there is no evidence the city ever formally executed the option. Jones’ verbal authorization for LSI to do maintenance work was “not an appropriate way to do things,” he said.

The city will put the camera-maintenance contract out for bid by the end of the month, he said.

Of the 213 crime cameras that are supposed to be operating throughout the city, 80 to 110 have not worked since Hurricane Gustav, Boyd said. He said he expects several companies to submit bids for the repair contract, which the city hopes FEMA will pay.

Much of the meeting centered on the work of Ciber, which was awarded a $5.5 million contract in 2005 that has been renewed each year and has grown to a cumulative total of $36 million, Midura said.

Ciber’s original contract was to provide a network to transmit e-mails and voices, Boyd said. When the city decided to use the network to link video from the cameras as well, the network’s bandwidth and geographic range had to be expanded, resulting in higher expenditures, he said. The Ciber contract was recently extended through 2009.

Council members and Janet Howard, president of the Bureau of Governmental Research, wondered why the city’s inspector general, Robert Cerasoli, was not asked to do the forensic audit.

Boyd said he had asked for an outside, independent look at his department, but Councilwoman Shelley Midura said Cerasoli’s office is available to do “friendly” reviews of any agency’s operations in addition to investigating fraud and corruption.

Boyd said he has turned over all documents on the crime camera program to Cerasoli.

Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell said the audit needs to go beyond the cameras. “We need to know whether the (MIS) department is giving the taxpayer the best bang for their bucks,” she said.

Boyd said that is what he is trying to determine.

He said he has eliminated the jobs of 25 people working for city contractors, which he said should save $1 million the rest of this year and $3 million next year.

Boyd originally was hired for three months, but the administration has asked him to stay another three months. He now is slated to leave in early 2009.

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Bruce Eggler can be reached at beggler@timespicayune.com or 504.826.3320.

Oct 10, 2008

Source: Times-Picayune

Filed under: Infrastructure, Orleans Parish

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