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Officials to investigate invalidation of Vision Fleet contract after scathing audit report

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Two city-county councilmen tell CBS4 they will urge their fellow council members to scrap a controversial contract to provide the city’s public safety fleet with electric cars that an audit has found were ill-suited to the mission under a deal that was ill-conceived from the start and didn't save taxpayers the money that was promised.

Councilmen Jeff Miller and Aaron Freeman cite the report by the Office of Audit & Performance that blasts the administration of former Mayor Greg Ballard, himself a fellow Republican, in awarding a sole bidder contract to Vision Fleet, a start-up company that completed the feasibility study that resulted in its selection to provide more than 200 electric cars for the city’s municipal fleet.

“It was a complete nightmare and the citizens and the taxpayers of Indianapolis deserve better," said Freeman.

The original copy of six contracts between the Department of Public Works and Vision Fleet eventually called for the assignment of more than 400 cars to the city in a $32 million 7-year deal.

From the start, Ballard called the project Indianapolis’ “Freedom Fleet” with a goal of replacing the entire municipal fleet with alternative fuel vehicles over the span of a decade.

“This program was so flawed from the beginning that I believe the city needs to take the step to try to terminate the contract," said Freeman.

Beginning in the spring of 2015, just as officers were first assigned the electric/hybrid cars, critics charged that the Ballard Administration dodged city purchasing rules by claiming the contract was a service agreement through the Department of Public Works and saddled officers with cars not compatible with police work that were riddled with technical and maintenance problems.

“You should be very frustrated that we have no idea about the accuracy and validity of the contracts, that we can’t tell how much we’re saving, that it’s unacceptable performance of the vendor, I mean these types of terms, this is very disturbing, yes people should be very upset," said Miller.

A CBS4 investigation last year revealed the city and Vision Fleet created multiple contracts that were backdated with forged signatures and language changes that threw into doubt the legality of the agreements.

The auditor’s report found, “the implementation of the program to be ineffective at achieving certain goals and plagued with misrepresentations and noncompliance.

“Our analysis led us to question the accuracy and validity of the various contracts, vehicle data and billed costs,” wrote the auditors. “We found it to be infeasible for the City to verify costs and reported program data.”

The report found that the implementation of the program strayed from the stated goal of providing cost effective and efficient alternative fuel source vehicles for the city’s fleet.

“This is manifested as a lack of performance, and/or unacceptable performance from the vendor, as well as agreements and actions that fail to satisfy essential objectives,” reads the audit. “These deficiencies ultimately pose a risk to the City.”

“We always felt that it was too much per car, we felt that we were putting officers in the wrong cars, we were putting them in Volts where they couldn’t fit all their equipment," said Miller.

Ballard, currently a visiting professor at the University of Indianapolis, did not respond to a request for comment.

Mayor Joe Hogsett’s office issued a statement that read, “In February, our administration requested that the Office of Audit and Performance commission a study on the financial implications and performance metrics of the Department of Public Works’ Master Fleet Agreement. The completed report we received last month provides a series of recommendations that we are considering as part of our top to bottom look for cost savings and efficiency within city government.”

The original Vision Fleet agreement was routed around city county council approval for contracts through the Public Works Board and DPW, leading the auditors to find, “we are omitting a review of the validity of funds used to pay invoiced charges for the Master Fleet Agreement.”

The auditors recalculated billed charges, verified vehicle data, compared six contract versions, determined compliance with applicable guidelines and assessed the effectiveness of the overall program.

What the report found was a stunningly flawed program and process from its inception to execution.

“The design and implementation of the Master Fleet Agreement (lacks) the controls needed to effectively accomplish certain objectives and to reasonably ensure efficiency,” reads the report. “This is related to the suitability of the vehicles and services received.”

Officers complained that the Chevrolet Volts which made up the overwhelming bulk of the fleet were too small, did not have a secure trunk area for the storage and transportation of weapons and damaged the home electrical systems of officers.

In 2015, the city said it would inspect and outfit the homes of officers to safely charge vehicles and reimburse city employees the cost of added electricity,

Officers tell CBS4 that pledge has not been fulfilled.

The report also found discrepancies in the maintenance agreements of the vehicles and Chevrolet’s refusal to certify city technicians to work on the cars.

Officers complain that not only were off-site maintenance visits to local Chevrolet dealers inconvenient and rife with billing confusion, the city’s Fleet Services division lacks typical replacement parts, such as tires, to keep the Volts on the road.

“We perceived the terms to be misleading and to misrepresent the magnitude of the potential cost savings the City could expect,” concluded the auditors.

The report found that the genesis of the wayward deal was a 2012 executive order signed by Ballard committing the city an alternative fuel fleet.

“The vendor’s fleet analysis report would subsequently be used to design and pilot a customized electric vehicle program for the City,” the auditors wrote. The vendor that wrote that report was Vision Fleet, now called Evercar, which “was awarded the contract as the sole submitter,” to supply the municipal fleet.

“Vision Fleet was formed from the entity that performed the fleet analysis,” found the report which determined, “the selection of vehicles offered by Vision Fleet is unsuitable for use by many of its functions.”

Regarding the original lease agreement, which was rewritten to term the deal a “rental” contract, the auditors state, “We found inconsistencies that contradicted the validity of its creation and its claimed date of execution.”

The report found the contract with Vision Fleet, “did not originate from purchasing’s procurement process, but allowed for a single person to authorize a payment, as though it had.”

The auditors recommend, “that management ensure contracts follow appropriate procurement guidelines, (that) are accurate, and transparently presented.”

The Department of Public Works, according to its audit response, agreed.

When it came to the management or mismanagement of the electric vehicle fleet by Vision Fleet and the City, the report found, “The performance of these services to be plagued with prolonged and repetitive instances of inaccurate data; inoperable fuel cards; and reports of failed maintenance notifications.

“The terms are vague,” the report concluded in its review of the management language of the contract. “It incentivizes Vision Fleet to supply data that is advantageous to its own reputation and profitability.”

A lawsuit by the city county council was dropped in the waning days of the Ballard Administration in favor of an agreement to, among other things, limit the size of the fleet, accept the delivery or no more vehicles, conclude the contract within five years and agree to the audit.

While the auditor’s report was completed in June of this year, final signatures by Director Hope Tribble and DPW Director Lori Miser were not affixed until August 9, and the audit was finally released on-line at noon today.

During the Ballard Administration, Miser was the DPW director who signed the original February 18, 2014, contract with Vision Fleet.

 

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