Semi-support of Brent Bachop #2

While Dunedin City Council seems to want to bury and forget the Cityfleecing saga laying all the blame of Brent Bachop there are wider questions being asked at What if? Dunedin…

In response to the previous post – Semi-support of Brent Bachop #1 – ‘Phil’ comments:

Steve, I think that we all appreciate your comments on the boards.

My own impressions of Brent are similar to yours and others in many ways. Face to face, a nice guy. Not the sharpest knife out there, but he did appear to be trying to do the best for his department during my professional dealings with him. It is that side which makes the other side all the more difficult.

Most of us agree that Brent found himself in the middle of a pre-existing situation.

The Deloitte report says that they have been given information that DCC vehicles were sold to the public prior to Bachop taking over as team Leader of Citifleet.

In September the ODT reported Citifleet case goes further:

The Dunedin City Council’s alleged Citifleet fraud may go ”considerably further back” than first thought, and more cars – and more missing money – are likely to be involved, it has been confirmed.

The revelation came from council chief executive Dr Sue Bidrose and Mayor Dave Cull, who both told the Otago Daily Times the alleged fraud appeared to pre-date former Citifleet team leader Brent Bachop’s time in charge.

Mr Bachop took over Citifleet from former manager Bob Heath in 2003.

Dr Bidrose said the investigation could only easily examine computerised financial records dating as far back as 2003, as earlier paper records were more difficult – and costly – to trawl through.

However, evidence had emerged suggesting the alleged fraud pre-dated 2003, and had been going on ”for a long time”, she said.

”Everything would suggest to me it’s been going on since before 2003, which is when our financial systems enabled us to start looking at it.

”People have worked hard, or somebody’s worked hard, to cover it up,” she said.

Asked how far back it might go, she said: ”I don’t know, but people are reporting odd behaviour prior to 2003. We simply can’t quantify that.’

Mr Cull said he also understood the alleged fraud may have ”originated considerably further back than 2003”.

Mr Cull said he did not want to speculate on whether Mr Heath had also been involved in anything untoward, saying ”I wasn’t here then”.

However, others spoken to by the ODT have described the former Citifleet manager as the ”Arthur Daley of the city council”.

It was one of his enduring nicknames during his time at the council, and referenced the shady character from the long-running British television show Minder.

So there seems to have been a considerable “pre-existing situation” that a number of people were aware of.

What did the Council do about it? They appointed Heath’s apprentice to take over management of the fleet (and the fleecing).

Back to Phil:

I think that everyone also accepts that it would have been almost impossible for Brent to carry out what he did, for the length of time that he did, without some additional internal knowledge or support. By the same token, we would have to accept that his predecessor would also have required internal support.

So it is going to be impossible to know at what point Brent first became aware of the situation. What his rationale was in making his final decision, I guess we will never know. Maybe it was for selfish reasons, maybe it was so that it would be easier to explain away in years to come. No one will ever know for sure.

That no one with the motor trade industry even suspected that something may be wrong with the sale and purchase of DCC fleet vehicles borders on professional negligence, in my opinion.

Concerns have been expressed in the motor trade industry for years. The Council refused to listen.

While the company owners may not have been aware, those who signed off on the purchases had been working for enough years to know what felt right and what felt wrong. One can only hope that the corrective processes being carried out with the DCC are also being carried out by the dealerships involved as the public has to right to have confidence when dealing with both public and private professionals.

That’s why some dealers are demanding the culprits are named – see ODT Identify car yards – dealers.

I do maintain that those who sought out Brent within the DCC for purchase of a fleet vehicle, for the most part, genuinely thought they were getting a good deal from DCC. That’s why they went there in the first place.

There were many such deals available exclusively to DCC. Paint was cheap from a particular supplier, as were (I believed noted by the ODT) tyres. Ethically completely wrong, but legally it was all there in the employee handbook at the time.

In the time since this has come to light, there have been a number of people who have chosen to hide behind the legality curtain and have chosen to completely ignore the personal integrity issue of ethics.

As with the other discounts, we all knew that we were being offered something that wasn’t being offered to the public in general.

That is especially important when considering an item originally purchased with public funds. Disappointing, but now most people know who they are. I agree entirely that the case against those who made payments direct to Brent Bachop (and those people are both internal and external) is much simpler. A reasonable person would have questioned.

A lot of reasonable people deserve a number of questions answered, and about a lot more than Brent Bachop’s culpability.

Citifleece – how many vehicles?

How many vehicles were involved in the Dunedin City Council fraud? How many vehicles does the council own now? How many does it need?

While it appears that DCC wanted to bury the Deloitte report detailing the fleecing of Dunedin ratepayers a number of important questions remain unanswered. There seems to be an attempt to lay all the blame on Citifleet ‘team leader’ Brent Bachop, now dead and unable to talk. Others must have been culpable to some extent.

A bit of simple arithmetic shows discrepancies in the number of cars involved in the fraud.

Kevin Thompson, the group manager who oversaw Citifleet (or was supposed to oversee Citifleet) resigned in September. The report of his resignation in the ODT – Another senior council staff member resigns – quoted some vehicle numbers:

In February, in an interview with the ODT, he said the council had 174 vehicles, together worth $2.5 million, but was looking to rid itself of surplus vehicles to make savings.

Council staff last month clarified the council had 122 vehicles, although the value of the fleet was still ”being worked through”.

The Deloitte report quotes some different numbers in their Background at the start of the report.

1.1 In late May 2014 Dunedin City Council began investigating discrepancies that have been identified between the record of Council owned vehicles held by it’s insurance provider and the record contained in it’s Fixed Asset Register (FAR) held by the Council’s finance department.

1.2 [Redacted] (Council Financial Analyst) asked Brent Bachop (Citifleet Team Leader) to assist in identifying the reasons for the discrepancies. Initially a total of 129 vehicles still on the FAR were identified by Mr Bachop as being no longer owned by the Council (or in the possession of the Council).

The report says that over the period of investigation (July 2003-May 2014) 274 vehicles were disposed of, of those 152 were “high risk” – no proceeds for them were received by the Council – and of those the ownership histories of only 113 were obtained.

Some questions from these numbers.

  • Where did the number of 174 quoted to the ODT in February come from? It can’t have been from the Fixed Asset Register if Bachop was correct saying in May that 129 on the Fixed Asset Register were no longer owned by the Council, because that would have left about 45 still owned vehicles on the register.
  • About half of the cars disposed of were removed from the Fixed Asset Register and about half left on, about ten each year. Why wasn’t this noticed?  Or was it noticed?
  • The number on the register must have been growing at about ten a year, the annual budgets for vehicle replacement were around $350,000-$400,000 or about ten vehicles. Why wasn’t this noticed?  Or was it noticed?
  • This still doesn’t add up. Was the Fixed Asset Register already grossly overstating the number of vehicles in 2003?
  • Are the 122 “clarified” number of vehicles in August as listed in the Fixed Asset Register or has the number come from somewhere else? Lists of vehicles should match but they obviously haven’t in the past.
  • Is 122 vehicles a reasonable number for a Council with staff of about 900, many of whom are part time (657 full time equivalent in June 2013)?
  • If the Fixed Asset Register had 129 too many vehicles on it why did no one consider why the Council might have something like 250 vehicles? Or if they did wonder why it looked like one in three employees might have use of a vehicle why was nothing done until this year?

Was the inability to consider basic numbers involving vehicles just extremely lax, or negligent, or complicit?

I’m sure there are more questions that could be asked about vehicle numbers.