Slipshod files blunt Tucson's inquiry into Parkwise

2011-08-30T00:00:00Z 2014-07-02T14:43:14Z Slipshod files blunt Tucson's inquiry into ParkwiseRob O'Dell Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
August 30, 2011 12:00 am  • 

Tucson cannot determine how much money was stolen from 92 parking meters in June because its system for tracking the coins deposited into each meter has not been working since January, according to a memo by Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villaseñor.

He issued the memo after Tucson police closed an investigation into the theft of 92 canisters from downtown meters. City officials have said they suspect someone with access to parking-meter keys.

Villaseñor's memo to City Manager Mike Letcher was released late Monday after a public records request by the Arizona Daily Star. The report comes on the heels of several audits of the city's Parkwise parking authority that showed the branch unable to account for thousands of dollars in parking revenues, confidential bid documents leaked to competitors, theft and a hostile work environment

Villaseñor said the lack of information on how much money went into each meter prevented the police from gathering information and creating a paper trail. "Obviously, if there was a functional audit system, it could have been helpful to gather information," he said in an interview.

Because control of the meter keys was so lax for such a long period of time, police had no way to determine who could be a suspect in the theft, Villaseñor said. "I think it's obvious why we couldn't come up with any charges against anyone."

The memo - and subsequent memos issued after the Star's request - said:

• There was no functioning audit system of how much money went into each parking meter, so the city could not reconcile the take from each meter versus the total amount of cash taken in.

• The keys to the meters were kept in an unlocked drawer in an office that is not occupied from 5 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and cleaning crews also have access to the office. There were several duplicate keys made - although the total is unknown, and Parkwise staff members said they had no idea who had them or if prior employees still had duplicate keys.

• The city has still not re-keyed all of its parking meters, even though General Services Director Ron Lewis said in late June that the process would take only a few weeks. Lewis said Monday the meters should all be re-keyed by next week.

• Parkwise did not learn about the theft until June 14, a week or more after the canisters were stolen on June 6 or June 7.

• The Tucson Police Department didn't start an investigation into the theft until June 27, three days after the Star ran a story on the meter thefts and almost two weeks after it was reported to them.

Villaseñor said he didn't know the reasons for the delay, but it could have been related to staffing issues. He said it can take up to four to five days for an investigation to be started after a report is filed, and he doesn't know why this case took longer.

He also said he was unsure who exactly the theft was reported to on June 14.

Re-keying the meters was delayed, Letcher said, because Parking Services Supervisor Ricardo Martinez was fired in August for leaking confidential information to a bidder seeking a contract for new parking meters downtown. Martinez was also responsible for the oversight of the keys. He couldn't be reached for comment.

Lewis said the audit system to track how much money came in has been beset by software and hardware problems since it was implemented in January. Lewis said he had no idea what system Parkwise used to count money from meters before January.

However, Lewis said he doubted there could have been systematic theft from the meters because the canisters are a "closed-loop" system, where the money can be taken out of the canister only with an unlocking mechanism that is controlled by the city cashier. The city didn't push a fix for the audit system because it felt the canisters were a "low-risk system" for theft.

Lewis acknowledged, however, that if an employee found a way to get an unlocking mechanism for the canisters, the city wouldn't know if money was being stolen. It can't reconcile the amount taken in at each meter with the total amount of cash taken in.

City Council members Steve Kozachik and Paul Cunningham said the Parkwise problems, on top of other management issues, might signal the need for a change at the top of city government, potentially including replacing the manager.

Kozachik said the city's management is "Rio Nuevo-esqe" and said with city management, "it's one issue after another."

"It's time for a change," he said. ""Somebody has to be held accountable."

Cunningham said that if city management doesn't improve, then change will be necessary because the city can't have "continuous ineptitude."

"How many times is this going to happen where we have upper management issues?" Cunningham said. "He's running out of mulligans," he said of Letcher.

Contact reporter Rob O'Dell at 573-4346 or rodell@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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