Update on the Victory

Two other contractors, Justin Ewald and Sibin Peter, were also let go and their systems seized at the same time. I met and worked with both a few times. Justin struck me as apolitical (in the “office politics” sense) and highly competent. However both were Brian’s chief lieutenants, in that he pulled them into whatever project he was involved with–they made him look good. Sibin was also extremely highly paid, having billed the City for over $800,000 in the last five years. (Brian Anderson was well over $1,000,000)

Note that there’s still one other person who was released; I don’t have their full name confirmed so I’m not releasing it yet. This person oversaw contracting for all of PWE, which makes sense. There was rampant employee speculation that a major portion of the scam was that Brian Anderson actually owned the consulting company providing these people to PWE. This might just be BS, but it was widely known among people familiar with the billing modernization project that there seemed to be a great deal of padding going on. One example: just last week UCS was just provided with a $165/hr. contractor to remote-lecture employees on a feature of the new system that they’re already aware of and have been using during tests. She billed the city for 15 hours. The conference was perhaps two hours, and at least one employee reportedly walked out in disgust.


I love the smell of napalm at City Hall. I’ll settle for it down the road at 611 Walker and 4200 Leeland.

The people named in the above post, Cymel Ashby and Brian Anderson, along with another person in procurement (name pending), were escorted out of their offices in the above buildings at 4:30 pm today. Their computers were seized by the Office of Inspector General.

This was said to be a very popular action at 4200 Leeland. No word on whether any jigs were danced at 611 Walker, though.

Who’s Minding The Store?

Updated for formatting and clarity on 6/25

In my December 15 post, I wrote the paragraph:

And now, things are worse than ever. It’s no longer a matter of bad management. Or I should say, just a matter of bad management. Now we’ve got the OIG investigating monkey business in PWE, a utility billing modernization plan that’s over budget and on course to miss its fourth deadline for deployment, yet another fee about to be charged to utility customers, and $25 million in utility overcharges to the same.

I didn’t explain the OIG comment at the time, because I detest the media’s use of “unnamed sources” to make shit up, and I wanted something more to base it on. So here’s an email I got a while back from a fellow worker at the City of Houston. I had to spend some time vetting it… only it’s worse than it looks here, because I had to delete portions that would positively identify the author. I’ve also added a few comments to clear up points that might not be obvious to an outsider, and then I follow with information from multiple unnamed sources. Yay me. I are media now.

Several years ago, I got assigned to work with (FOR) a contractor, which isn’t supposed to happen, but did anyway. I wasn’t the only one. In theory, I answered to a city manager, but in reality, he (Evil IT Contractor) determined all my work assignments and even where I was officed. It took me a year to twig to it, but this guy was a scammer who didn’t really know jack about IT, but could fake it well and was really skilled at playing people around him. Especially Weak Boss (this is a reference to Tommy McClung, former Assistant Director of Utility Customer Service –ubu), who he had totally snowed. Lesser managers (including mine) were intimidated by his influence, especially after he brought a major project to a “successful” conclusion (Read: Drainage. it didn’t quite blow up in the mayor’s face, but it’s still not working the way it should. –ubu )

So [Evil IT Manager] got put in charge of a billing modernization project, overseeing a different vendor (which he effectively chose). I lasted six months of his stress-inducing crap before [redacted]. After that I decided to challenge him openly, in order to be removed from the project. It nearly got me fired (he tried!), but I got moved. Meanwhile he continued mismanaging the project, running off all the competent people, finding new software to spend money on, and three years later, we are trying to determine our NINTH date for “go-live.” (The first was 7/1/2014 –ubu)

Evil IT Contractor got in tight with the City’s overall IT manager, (Charles Thompson – ubu) was promoted to Acting CTO for all of Public Works IT, while still a contractor. Also, he and Evil Manger divorced their original spouses and shacked up together, while he was still a contractor and she was responsible for oversight of his contract. Talking to a coworker, they’ve got him dead to rights double, triple, even quadruple billing for his hours under different contracts.* And yes, the City’s Inspector General is “investigating”… and doing nothing.

“Evil IT Contractor” is Brian Anderson, of various consulting companies. Evil Manager is Cymel Ashby, COH employee. Brian’s been paid over $1 million by the city since arriving — see the Adi Dajani, a left-wing, virulently anti-Israel Muslim who supports Ben Hall for Mayor. Scroll down to the first March 17 post, and note it says “edited.” It disappeared for over a month shortly after posting, without any mention whatsoever. I’m assuming a lawsuit got threatened, or a DMCA abuse occurred — the new version says nothing of the criminal investigation. Maybe I’ll find out when mine gets hit by a takedown…

One person in UCS procurement has been let go, though it’s not clear if its due to this, and he was only a contractor himself. And Tommy McClung resigned in April. Susan Bandy is resigning at the end of the year, but whether it has anything to do with this or she just decided to call it a day isn’t clear. She and Dale Rudik (Director, PWE) were said to be highly upset over the failure of the project so far (which is about 50% over budget — so far), but nothing has happened; it appears that the Mayor is willing to run out the clock and not provide ammunition for any of her potential successors, such as Bill King or Ben Hall.

By the way, since two of the people questioned are the Evil Manager and Evil IT Manager (according to my multiple unnamed sources!), I’m not revealing anything to the subjects of the investigation that they don’t know.

Edit: Look at Brian Anderson’s LinkedIn page. He’s rarely in a management position for more than two years.

* Ubu: I personally viewed an entry in SAP in which Mr. Anderson submitted FOUR requests for a week’s payment, all dated the same day. Only ONE had the required timesheet attached. Countersigned by Cymel Ashby and Tommy McClung. There are no dates on the three other requests to indicate what the specific days worked were. So just who is minding the store?

Is the City Controller AWOL?

For once a short article. Just asking a question: what happened to the Controller’s oversight duty?

Plans since Ron Green took over as the City Controller (remember, FY ends June 30 of the stated year):
FY2011 Plan: 14 audits planned.
FY2012 Plan: 8 audits + 2 carried over from prior year.
FY2013 Plan: 6 audits + 5 carried over, and three “alternates.”
FY2014 Plan: 5 audits + 6 carried over, and four alternates.
FY2015 plan: 5 audits + + carried over, and six alternates

It’s not unusual to have audits carry over — about 1/4 of each year’s total below is carried over, at least until 2010. Actual completions, going back before the Annise Parker era:
FY2002: 22 audits
FY2003: 26 audits
FY2004: 41 audits
FY2005: 37 audits
FY2006: 7 audits
FY2007: 14 audits
FY2008: 9 audits
FY2009: 29 audits
FY2010: 15 audits
FY2011: 6 audits
FY2012: 11 audits
FY2013: 9 audits
FY2014: 6 audits
FY2015(to date): 2 audits

The Controller’s job is to backstop the mayor and make sure that everything’s on the up-and-up financially. Well, that’s terribly oversimplified, but it seems obvious that there’s been a downward trend in attention to this duty. It’s enough to make you wonder why Bob Lemer, Bill King, and Bill Frazer are upset with the Controller’s office. Now my question is this… how come the Chronicle dumps news like this on the “back pages” of their website? I mean, just how important is the best lip colors of 2014?

My take on it in 2009.

Late Fee Follies (updated)

In the earlier article today, I referenced $25 million in overcharges. So how did the City manage that trick? Well, stupidity and arrogance, of course.

Back in 2012-2013, the City Controller’s (Ron Green’s) office did an audit of UCS’s Water Meters and Transmitters. Seeing as they’re not particularly technically adept, it was really an audit of policies and procedures, not the mechanicals, but it was prompted by years of complaints by the customers of inaccurate meters. (They’re not. As I’ve said for years, the problems are with the transmitters, and, as will be obvious here, the business processes.) The summary of issues found reads as follows:

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Out of Time, Out of Water

Well, here we are after months with no post, and a half-hour just trying to remember my password to log in. I really haven’t been by here in way too long. Considered making a post back when the Greanias story broke last week, but settled for making a snarky comment. I would SO push for jury nullification, if I were called to serve. (Edit: Nullification of the poor sap being prosecuted for “falsifying a government document”; that is, a time card.)

But let’s face it, there are some things even more important that trying to get back control of our government from the perverts, hypocrites, and crooks with delusions of controlling our everyday lives.

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Deja vu All Over Again

Everything old is new again…

An unpopular foriegn war going on, which the left sees as un-winnable.
The DOJ is being heavily politicized, ignoring friends of the president and punishing his foes.
High unemployment, low growth, and inflation is on the way up — stagflation.
The occupant of the White House is unpopular, spiteful, and operates (at best) on the borders of legality.
That president is dealing with a hostile congress that is trying to cripple his programs.
The vice-president is seen as a bumbling fool.
Foreign powers hostile to us don’t consider us credible, and our allies are wavering.

Sigh, how are we ever going to get Nixon out of the White House?

Oh wait, Dan Rather is in the president’s corner this time… well, that’s one change, not for the better.

Drainage, CIP. Make yourself heard.

Per the City of Houston, the drainage projects will be discussed at CIP meetings during February and March. Sorry for the formatting. Here’s the schedule. Note that it’s in order by council district,not date. Also note that none of the at-large council members are holding such meetings. Don’t see any reason to, or afraid to step on their district bretheren’s toes? Still it’s a shame they can’t do a better job of meeting their constituents.

These meetings are starting this MONDAY NIGHT 2/14.

2011 CIP Public Meetings Schedule

The City of Houston will conduct combined public meetings on the City’s FY2011 Annual Operating Budget Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) and 2011 Annual Consolidated Plan. Since 1984, the City has held public meetings to obtain citizen input before preparation of the operating budget and capital improvement plan. These meetings provide citizens the opportunity to participate in the budget process by contributing comments and suggestions about needed services and improvements.

DISTRICT / COUNCIL MEMBER 2011 DATE(S) LOCATION(S) / MAP(S) LINK (go here for the links and a better formatted verison)
A – Brenda Stardig Mon., Feb. 28 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. Spring Woods High School 2045 Gessner Drive

B – Jarvis Johnson Thu., Feb. 24 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. Kashmere Multi-Service Center 4802 Lockwood

C – Anne Clutterbuck Tue., Mar. 1 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. St. Vincent De Paul Catholic School 6802 Buffalo Speedway

D – Wanda Adams Tue., Feb. 15 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. Judson Robinson Jr. Community Center 2020 Hermann Drive

E – Mike Sullivan (2) Mon., Feb. 14 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. CLEAR LAKE J. Frank Dobie High School 10220 Blackhawk

Mon., Feb. 21 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.KINGWOOD Woodridge Baptist Church 5707 Kingwood Drive

F – Al Hoang Wed., Mar. 9 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. Sharpstown Community Center 6600 Harbor Town

G – Oliver Pennington Wed., Feb. 23 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. Tracy Gee Community Center 3599 Westcenter Drive

H – Ed Gonzalez Tue., Feb. 22 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. Jefferson Davis High School (Atrium) 1101 Quitman

I – James G. Rodriguez Wed., Feb. 16 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. E.B. Cape Center 4501 Leeland

I have a better idea

than furloughs.

How about we FIX. THE. PENSION. MESS.

Oh, and stop building toy trains, collect the money owed to the city by Metro (over $100m now), stop raising counterproductive taxes for things we don’t need (expensive drainage projects), building stadiums (stadii?) for rich team owners, end bilingual pay, diversity programs, the entire MWBE program & administration therof, sanctuary status, coddling of homeless people… I could go on for a while….

Too Damn Funny

I don’t normally post much on highly technical items, even national security subjects, but this one just couldn’t be allowed to pass. Aboutthe STUXNET worm that is attacking Iran, the poster NobodySpecial at Schneier.com said:

Can anyone think of another area of software development where you would say “my god this a work of breathtaking ingenuity and fiendish cunning – it could only have been written by a civil servant” !!

Heh. No, I can’t.

Oh, but if you want something more fun to think about, here’s something from the UK on those “smart meters” with pre-paid cards:

Criminals across the UK have hacked the new keycard system used to top up pre-payment energy meters and are going door-to-door, dressed as power company workers, selling illegal credit at knock-down prices.

The bad news? Eventually the system figures out it’s being had, and the customer has to pay for the electricity again — this time at the real rate.

New Director

The mayor just announced the new director of PW&E.

Moments ago the Mayor announced Mr. Krueger as the new Director of the Public Works and Engineering Department. Confirmation by City Council is anticipated as early as late July.

Very Respectfully, 

Daniel R. Menendez, P.E.
Deputy Director
Engineering & Construction Division

Menendez was the interim director for the last couple of days.

Frankly, the mayor should have announced a new ITD director. The website rollout is totally botched. As I write this, the city’s front page is HTV. I don’t mean it’s redirected there, I mean it is HTV.

Once again, ITD fubars a project. No surprises there.

So Long, and Thanks for all the… Grief? (Updated)

I have yet to see it on any news outlet in Houston, but the word at the office is that Director of Public Works and Engineering Michael Marcotte has tendered his resignation to Mayor Parker. The effective date is in two weeks. According to multiple sources, the Mayor was not happy with unspecified job performance issues and requested the Director vacate his position.

What prompted this action now? The City is embroiled in multiple controversies, as the new mayor puts her stamp on the city. A hefty water rate increase, a drainage “fee” initiative that has her tacit approval, upheavals at Metro; now would not seem to be the time to throw more fuel on the fire. All of those involve Public Works in some way. Yet the fact remains: Marcotte is out.

Several questions immediately occur:

  • Is Marcotte supposed to take the fall for the rate increase?
  • What was the mayor unhappy about?
  • Who else, if anyone, will be following, if the mayor is unhappy?
  • Did Marcotte balk at some demand involving the rates, cooperation with Metro, backing the initiative?

Taking the fall doesn’t make sense. There’s no way that Parker can shift the blame for needing the rate increase onto Marcotte; not while she was the controller and silently oversaw the vast expansion of debt funding from capital projects into everyday operations and maintenance. So what is going on?

Perhaps we’ll hear when the usual 3:48 pm Friday evening press release goes out, but I’m not holding my breath.

Update: My view of Marcotte is probably not that well informed; I don’t interact with him in any way. Still, my impression is that he’s an even-tempered administrator who doesn’t rush to judgment, isn’t prone to arrogance, and listens to his managers. He’s been a loyal soldier publicly, whatever he’s had to say privately. He’s tried, within budget constraints, to see to it that his employees are compensated as well as in the private sector.

If I had to take a wild guess, I’d say that the rift probably had to do with the rebate program, and/or contract administration and code enforcement. The latter areas have always given me a queasy feel when I’ve dealt with them; contract inspectors sometimes act like they’re working for the contractor, not the city. There’s nothing I can specifically point to as wrong-doing (or I’d be publishing it, screw OIG), but the creation of the rebate program risks letting the rot spread. Not to mention, it removes funding from the utility system and hands it to slumlords.

Who are these “Engineers” of whom you speak?

Well, I’ve said any number of times (though mostly not here) that the drainage fee was coming back. Sure enough, it has.. There were several things I thought were very interesting in today’s uncritical article.

  • The assumption that some of the metro sales tax (aka. “general mobility”) funds would be used for drainage and “infrastructure” improvements. In the first place, that assumes that the changing of the Metro guard means a resumption of those payments to COH. Second place, they’re talking about other than drainage if they’re using mobility funds. Third place, I hope they have that much left after paying for lawsuit settlements for breaking the law about open records. Just as Tom Bazan has hounded them about for years.
  • User fee is bullshit, it’s a property tax. Council Member Costello: “It’s a user fee!” Funny, I thought my property tax was a user fee. If I don’t pay it, I’m not going to have use of my land for very long.
  • Note the article’s reference to developer fees where such development “affects density.” In other words, they’re going to make it more expensive to develop inside the city– not only that, but they’ll penalize and discourage the very density growth that they claim to be encouraging (and needing) for MetroRail.
  • Who are these faceless “engineers” of whom the Chronicle speaks? The only one identified by name is the President of this relatively unheard-of “Renew Houston” That’s Edwin Friedrichs of Walter P. Moore, whose online bio reads:

He devises engineering solutions to help build better communities. Some of his signature projects include the Uptown Houston Transportation Master Plan and Streetscape Improvements Program, numerous roadways and facilities at the Texas Medical Center, Sam Houston Tollway Section VII-A, Minute Maid Park, Lake Texana State Park, BMC Software Headquarters, and the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Mr. Friedrichs works to find consensus, both in his professional work and his civic activities, with groups such as South Main Alliance, Rice Design Alliance, Greater Houston Partnership, Houston Achievement Place, and various City of Houston committees.

Well, I’d not expect an un-influential person to be heading this project.. Can you say “Front man”? I knew that you could.

Some other notes:

The $8 billion to improve drainage would come primarily from three sources. First, the “Stormwater User Fee” that is expected to amount to about $5 per month for an average homeowner and $90 a month for an average commercial property owner with 14 units per acre.

In other words, a property tax, by another name.

Second, a “Development Impact Fee” would set up a program by which developers have to pay for the degree to which their projects impact density.

Which will discourage it, as noted above.

Third, a “pay-as-you-go” plan that would take the estimated one-sixth of total city property tax revenues used now to pay for interest costs on debt that has financed infrastructure and drainage projects and apply it directly to new projects. In other words, the city would not incur additional debt to pay for infrastructure as part of the plan and as old debts are paid off, money used to make those payments would be put to drainage and infrastructure projects.

How about we use the money for Police and Fire protection, huh?

But that’s not all, not by a long shot. Other funding:

The city also would continue to use other sources of funds to pay for road and drainage improvements, such as “mobility funds,” or sales taxes, collected by the Metropolitan Transit Authority and redistributed to the city.

So Metro’s going to cough up the money at last? Wonder how that will affect their already documented inability to pay for their current plans?

The proposed referendum includes a provision that would continue the program for another 20 years after 2032 unless City Council votes to modify or cancel it.

Keep that gravy train rolling, baby, hundreds of millions a year in public spending. Construction and engineering companies are lining up!

Parker said she preferred that the referendum focus exclusively on drainage rather than “general infrastructure,” and she also is uncomfortable that the charter amendment would prohibit future mayors from leveraging the revenues to issue debt if such a course were needed.

What, she wants to pile on MORE DEBT? Well, she let Bill White pile on all he wanted while ignoring the warning signs. Personally, I’m also worried about the referendum being used as an end-run around Prop 1 and Prop 2, if not to just “accidentally” repeal them entirely. “Oh, we didn’t realize it said that, but since it does…”

Houston’s voters need to wake up and smell the arsenic. The “non-partisan” nature of city elections means that neither the Democratic nor Republican parties feel any need to score points off the other by, Heaven forbid, actually doing what the voters want, instead of treating them as particularly stupid sheep to be sheared.