City of Springfield News Releases (General)

Posted on: December 3, 2015

City continues review of Southwest Treatment Plant

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

The City of Springfield has thoroughly reviewed operations at the Southwest Treatment plant after quickly responding to concerns brought forward by employees in August 2014. The Southwest Treatment plant is one of two wastewater treatment facilities operated by the Department of Environmental Services. It operates around the clock to treat wastewater from the greater Springfield area.

The concerns were related to potential misuse of city-owned property and funds at the Southwest Treatment Plant. Upon completion of the first phase of an internal investigation, misappropriation of between $25,000-$50,000 was suspected.

The City requested a separate investigation by the Springfield Police Department to determine what, if any, criminal misconduct occurred. City Manager Greg Burris also brought in outside industry experts and an external financial audit firm to review how the facility does business, both operationally and financially.

The three reviews include:
laboratory standard operating procedures review by Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District (MSD); a standard operating procedures review by Black and Veatch (an engineering consulting firm specializing in wastewater operations); and a financial audit by RubinBrown, LLP.

MSD concluded that the lab standard operating procedures were very good, citing our consistency among lab personnel and our proficiency in keeping up with annual updates.

Black and Veatch was asked to review standard operational procedures relating to the mechanical and chemical processes of wastewater treatment, and did not find any major deficiencies in the operations of the wastewater treatment plant. The plant has operated for more than 10 years without a permit violation.

RubinBrown, LLP completed its financial audit, thoroughly examining the plant’s purchase card program. A report provided to City Council’s Finance & Administration Committee Dec. 1, 2015, detailed four findings with recommendations that auditors think will minimize risk and improve compliance with existing policies.

The findings:

1) Auditors noted a large number of purchasing cards issued to employees at the plant and recommended the department centralize the procurement of goods and equipment largely through a parts and inventory clerk. This would allow for the removal of cards with minimal usage.

2) A second finding indicated a lack of visibility into plant purchasing. Auditors recommend establishing a process for secondary review of purchases by Environmental Services executive management. “While it is unreasonable that this should include all transactions, establishing a transaction threshold for this will significantly reduce the level of effort required while covering an acceptable level of the spend total at the plant,” the report states.

3) The report also indicated a potential loss of the ability to obtain more competitive pricing for purchased goods. It was recommended to implement a City-level analytical review of the major items being purchased by the plant to see where like purchases could be consolidated across each of the departments at a City-wide level. The consolidation of such could be executed through the use of a single City-wide contract, blanket purchase order, or through the use of a preferred supplier listing.

4) Weaknesses in equipment registry. While the plant maintains a comprehensive inventory of all capital assets, auditors suggest that the plant’s current equipment should be inventoried to provide an accurate image of equipment. Auditors further suggest that future equipment purchases either be centralized through one position or that a process be implemented for which all purchasing card holders notify a central administrator of all equipment purchases so that it can be included in the registry.

“We appreciate the work of the auditors and have already implemented the recommended changes,” said City Manager Greg Burris. “The Southwest Treatment Plant is an outstanding facility served by dedicated employees who work tirelessly to take care of the award-winning plant and the customers served by the plant. We believe the events that occurred are isolated, and we are continuing further reviews to ensure proper measures have been taken to prevent future problems of this nature.”

Springfield Police Department completed its investigation in November 2014 and submitted the case to the Greene County Prosecutor’s Office (GCPO). The matter is still being adjudicated.

“While an investigation is underway, publicly discussing allegations of any nature constitutes an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy for both the accused and those who came forward with potential concerns, as well as potentially jeopardizing the investigative process,” Burris said.

The City of Springfield is committed to providing timely answers to its constituents and providing transparent and honest communication.

About the Southwest Treatment Plant
The Southwest Treatment Plant is a recipient of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) Platinum Award - issued to plants receiving five consecutive Gold Awards. Very few plants across the country receive the Platinum Award. Gold awards are issued for plants maintaining zero National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit violations an entire year.

• 2015 – The plant is still maintaining its Platinum status, and has had zero NPDES violations.
• 2014 – The plant maintains its fifth year of Platinum status. Zero NPDES violations for the ninth consecutive year.
• 2010 – After five NACWA Gold awards in a row, the plant receives its first Platinum rating.
• 2006-2010 – NACWA Gold Awards.

The plant has also received the NACWA Operations & Environmental Performance Award, presented to agencies for outstanding initiatives in wastewater treatment, wastewater conveyance, stormwater management, and/or environmental enhancement. It recognizes an innovative and effective project developed and successfully implemented in a cost effective manner while achieving environmental compliance objectives.

Additional Document
The below schedules were provided by the City to the Springfield Police Department as part of an investigation. The schedules contain analyses related to certain purchases at the Southwest Treatment Plant and were prepared either by City staff or the City’s outsourced internal auditors.
Analysis Spreadsheet

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For more information, contact: Cora Scott, Director of Public Information & Civic Engagement, 417-864-1009 (office) | 417-380-3352 (cell), cscott@springfieldmo.gov.

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