By Lacey McLaughlin
Last Modified: Thursday, June 26, 2014 at 12:20 p.m.
PORT ORANGE — City leaders still have unanswered questions about a $411,510 water meter purchasing error that resulted in the resignations of two city officials last week and has revealed a host of issues within Port Orange’s public utilities department.
Council members are considering a further investigation that would determine whether employees knowingly withheld information about an error that nearly doubled the city’s $500,000 contract with Sunstate Meter and Supply to replace water meters in the city.
Last week, Public Utilities Director Jason Yarborough and purchasing manager Tom Cinefro resigned after an independent review shed light on how the error occurred.
A public utilities employee has also been suspended.
The cost overruns also revealed a lack of internal controls, staffing shortages, low wages and an overload of projects that employees are struggling to keep up with, according to City Manager Greg Kisela.
Council members debated solutions for improving the department at Tuesday’s meeting but fell short of reaching a conclusion.
Kisela will serve as the interim utilities director until the position in filled.
“What has hurt us is that we get staffed and then we lose people,” Kisela said.
“They are concerned to work in an environment with hostility exhibited to them from the finance department.”
In a letter to the city on June 3, Cinefro outlined his knowledge of the unapproved purchases, stating that he has “not engaged in inappropriate conduct.”
The city’s public utilities department did not properly monitor the contract balance, which is required by the city’s purchasing policy, Cinefro wrote, adding that it wasn’t his division’s responsibility to monitor the contract balance.
Kisela hired consultant Dick Kelton to interview city employees who were involved in ordering and approving meters and related supplies.
Kelton’s report states that staff was aware of cost overruns as early as March, but a change order revealing the error was not presented for council members’ approval until May 27.
The lack of forthcoming information about the error has some council members questioning if other staff members are at fault.
“Being accused of something doesn’t make it true,” Port Orange Mayor Allen Green told council members. “I have to have documentation. If it takes another investigation, that’s what it takes.”
Yarborough, who was hired in September, is the city’s second public utilities director to resign in less than two years. The city’s former utilities director, Roger Smith, resigned in March 2013 after allegations he granted thousands of hours of unauthorized administrative leave to himself and other employees.
Kisela has the sole authority to hire a new public utilities director and purchasing manager, but council members expressed the desire to have more involvement in the process.
Kisela said he would likely create a committee made up of city staff to review potential candidates.
“I am getting tired of continued problems I am facing,” Councilman Bob Ford said. “Council needs to intervene. We need to change the flow of what’s happening here.”
Editor’s note: This story has been changed to correct the identity of consultant Dick Kelton and reflect that it was a public utilities employee who had been suspended.