CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - A WBTV Investigation into the billing practices of IT contractors at the City of Charlotte is forcing city leaders to take a closer look at their system of checks and balances. Public records and invoices obtained by WBTV show that some contractors were billing for overtime hours without authorization and receiving reimbursements for international flights.
Sky is the limit
Invoices for one IT contractor working for the aviation department revealed that he was living in Israel while working full-time for the city. David Tamir started working for the city as a contractor in late 2015. But in 2018, Tamir moved to Israel while his work for the city continued.
Public records reviewed by WBTV show that Tamir submitted travel expenses between Israel and Charlotte for the city to reimburse. In 2018, Tamir billed the city $9,351 for travel and was flying to Charlotte every other month.
Even when he wasn’t in Charlotte Tamir submitted invoices that indicated he worked in excess of 30 hours per week for the city while in Israel.
Charlotte Aviation Director Brent Cagle said that the city was reducing Tamir’s hours over the past year but after WBTV requested records related to the contractor the city phased out his contract.
“We wanted to move away from utilizing Mr. Tamir given that he lived in Israel,” Cagle said.
According to Cagle nothing about the invoices or reimbursements was illegal. However, Cagle said that after reviewing the contract, the department decided it wasn’t a necessary expense.
“The question really comes to is it the best use of the funds and the resources to have someone at his level traveling from Israel to Charlotte to do important work,” Cagle said.
“The answer is no.”
Over a four year period Tamir earned more than $925,000 working for aviation and was paid at a rate of $199 per hour.
No questions please
Tamir was not the only contractor submitting questionable invoices. An IT contractor working for the city of Charlotte billed the city for overtime, in violation of the agreed upon contract.
Kathy Rowland is a former employee at Charlotte Water. According to the city she resigned from her position in 2018 but hired back on as a contractor the same month. Her contract allows her to earn $367,000 over a 21-month period. At Rowland’s new hourly rate, she would be the highest paid employee at Charlotte Water.
Charlotte Chief Information Officer Reenie Askew told WBTV that it it’s not a misuse of city funds if the contract was entered into for the right reasons.
“If an employee retires and they have a specialized skill set and we have a gap between that person left and when we can hire someone else it makes sense if we need to bring back in that person to bridge the gap,” Askew said.
Rowland’s history within the Charlotte Water department created a complicated dynamic about who had authority to review her invoices.
Over a nine-month period, Rowland and the company she worked for BC Forward, billed $5,653 in overtime. Invoices reviewed by WBTV showed that she was charging 1.5x’s her base rate of pay. The contract entered into with the city states that overtime is only allowed at the regular rate of pay for the contractor.
Emails obtained by WBTV through a public records request show that the error was caught but a Charlotte Water employee indicated his boss did not allow him to question the invoices submitted by Rowland.
The email reads “Doug (his boss) made it clear that I am not authorized to dispute any of the hours or submissions, only to approve them.”
A response from the city says that the email is out of context and that it was Doug Groce’s responsibility to monitor Rowland’s hours and not the other Charlotte Water employee.
But Askew said that the employee acted appropriately in bringing up the errors in the invoices.
“I think that person probably did the right thing,” Askew said.
“As you’re looking over the contracts if there’s something of concern it’s most definitely something you bring forward to your leadership within the organization.”
The city says it is working with BC Forward and “expects to receive a credit from the vendor equal to the amount of the error.”
Rowland is still working as a contractor for Charlotte Water and her contract expires in October 2020.
WBTV Investigation prompts change
In an email sent to city council members before WBTV published this story a city spokesperson claimed the city was already making changes.
“Staff is continuing to review our processes and procedures to identify what improvements or clarifications could be made in the future. Some changes have already been identified and been made,” the email reads.
Askew said that since she assumed her CIO position a year ago she has worked to implement improved standards for contractor billing. Specifically, she has put in place a more rigid method for approving or declining contractors extraneous expenses like food and travel.
“They were not where I wanted them to be,” Askew said.
“Pulling in contract and vendor management is new to my organization but it’s to ensure we comply with our procurement rules and we have checks and balances on our vendors and on our contracts.”
Both Cagle and Askew say there will be a greater assessment moving forward of whether an IT contractor is needed for specific jobs. When city council authorized the city to enter into contracts with IT professionals the intention was for the positions to be relatively short term. However, both Rowland and Tamir assumed major roles within their respective IT departments and were tasked with significant projects.
“I want to continue looking at and working with the city CIO and our (aviation) technology director to better understand where the right balance is between in-sourcing and out-sourcing for technology contracts,” Cagle said.
The city is also working to consolidate the various IT offices across departments with only Charlotte Water and Human Resources yet to be integrated.
“That allows for better controls and an accountability for what’s going on,” Askew said.