An internal audit within Chatham County Fleet Operations revealed that $139,000 worth of fuel was distributed without being paid for. As a result, Michael Grant was dismissed from his position as fleet manager while auditors and policemen investigated the misappropriated funds.
In a memo on Oct. 31, 2012, internal auditor Mallie Clark announced that the inventory of fuel expenses should have equaled $198,435 according to the records, but the manually-counted inventory only equaled $61,627.
Fleet Operations used a program called Fuel Master to monitor fuel distribution and expenses. While in office, Grant repeatedly explained in memos dating back from October of 2011 to March of 2013 that the Fuel Master software monitoring fuel distribution was unsatisfactory
“The fuel management system is compromised of both dated software and obsolete hardware. The hardware components of the original system are still in place and no longer meet industry standards,” Grant said in a written response to the internal audit on Oct. 15, 2012.
In Grant’s response he also noted that Fuel Master advised fleet operations to replace the tank-monitoring unit on Sallie Mood Drive in the late 1990s because of outdated software.
Two weeks later Roy Hinely, the internal audit director, sent a memo to County Manager R.E. Abolt reporting the physical inventory. He recognized the shortages and said that fleet operations management pointed to computer problems.
“This may be the case. However, it is disturbing that past audit recommendations to maintain manual tracking records … [that] have not been implemented,” Hinely wrote in the memo. An audit of the prior fiscal year showed a similar report, with $29,000 worth of gasoline missing.
On Feb. 4, 2013, Clark and Jenny Clements updated Hinely, stating that because no one checked the fleet inventories with the billing information, no one was aware of shortages until the end of this fiscal year. The discrepancies were credited to Grant since no one was checking the software’s numbers with the billing information and the physical inventory.
Abolt did not agree that the blame should be placed on software.
“I do not want to continue to rely on computers, I want the human aspect—the check and balance that are naturally there—to verify what’s going on,” said Abolt.
The auditors did not find any evidence of theft in their inspection, but in December, Abolt requested a police investigation and information about polygraphs.
In February, County Attorney Jonathan Hart said that Police Chief Willie Lovett could use a polygraph on public employees as long at the questions related to their performance and wouldn’t be used in a criminal prosecution.
According to the Savannah Morning News, Abolt said no polygraphs were given because ultimately the police found no evidence of theft.
Clark’s status report on Feb. 4 revealed that $76,000 of the unbilled fuel went to Chatham County Departments, and $43,000 went to outside organizations, such as the Counter Narcotics Team and the Savannah-Chatham County Metropolitan Police Department.
There have been problems monitoring fuel inventory dating back to 2007, which was before Grant became fleet manager, according to Clark and Clement’s review of fleet operations.
On March 26, Hinely reported that $18,000 was still unaccounted for.
Clark said that no one took advantage of the Fuel Master training opportunities and no one could verify that Fuel Master was inaccurate, but they did admit that it needed updating, which would cost a few hundred dollars.
“Fuel Master software used to manage and report fuel distribution data is difficult to use and slow to process information,” Clark and Clements wrote in a memo.
The corrective plan of action is to physically count the inventory each month and compare it to the software’s inventory to identify inconsistencies, such as unbilled items and unrecorded purchases. They also plan to identify staff training needs and hope to bill departments in a timely manner. There was no mention of correcting the software.
But according to Abolt, the heart of the matter is to “not rely on data processing, because that’s where we get in trouble.”