CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - A month ago, a whistleblower led us to a stockpile of obsolete parking meters parts, buried two stories under Fountain Square. The parts have been stored in a parking garage storage room for more than a decade.
The storage room is on the second floor of the Fountain Square parking garage, right below the Westin Hotel. We were gr anted access to the room by a whistleblower, who agreed to provide details of this case with the promise of anonymity.
WHAT WE FOUND
"It seems like somebody is not watching our government. If this has been here since 2003, no one is paying attention to the taxpayer dollars," Cincinnati Councilman Charlie Winburn told FOX19 NOW.
Winburn chairs city council's Budget and Finance Committee. We asked Winburn to meet us outside the parking garage to show him the room Oct. 23. We did not tell Winburn what was inside or what we knew. We wanted Winburn to draw his own conclusions about the contents of the storage room.
"This is definitely an outrage, a shock, a disgrace from Amazing Grace that the city would allow this to go on and no one knows anything about it," Winburn said.
The room contains Duncan parking meter timer mechanisms, housings, internal components and hardware to mount the meters. The mechanisms are still stored in the original foam shipping containers.
There are more than 3,200 mechanisms inside by our count.
A search through several of the containers showed many mechanisms that showed evidence of use and multiple others that appear to be in brand new condition. The containers had handwritten dates ranging from the 1980s through the late 1990s.
An online search of the Duncan Parking Meter manufacturer's records shows the style of meters inside the storage room were produced as early as the 1960s and some appear to be later models.
Part of our investigation was to determine an estimated value of the parts. We searched Ebay and found used Duncan parking meter mechanisms selling on the auction site for around $25 each. Complete, used meters are selling for $99 each.
Our whistle blower estimates there could be enough parts inside this storage room to bring the city around $500,000 using the Ebay prices as a point of estimation.
We also found more than 1,700 Duncan Eagle model parking meter circuit boards inside. Most of those parts were in brand new condition and still in unsealed cardboard shipping boxes. A Duncan price list from 2004 shows the value of the circuit boards at $100 each.
Based on that price list, we can estimate the value of the circuit boards at more than $170,000.
The room also contained boxes of brand new replacement polycarbonate inspection windows for the Duncan meters.
All of the equipment in the room was under a layer of dust that covered the entire room.
The city could not give us an estimation as to how long the equipment had been stored inside the room. We found Cincinnati Parking Services log sheets for security patrols in the room showing the last security guard check of the room happened in March 2003.
Our whistleblower said parking services officials told staffers about a decade ago, the city had a buyer for all the equipment inside, but that the city never followed through with the sale.
"It tells me the government waste could be pretty rampant all over the city," Winburn said.
"Since it's been brought to my attention, I am now responsible. The buck stops with me and I plan to find out why this is going on here and if there's some people that need to turn in their resignations, then we want that, too," Winburn told FOX19 NOW.
CHANGES IN CITY POLICY COMING
We informed the city of what we found on Friday Oct. 30. By Monday, Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black issued an order to Oscar Bedolla, Director of Community and Economic Development, to inventory the room and "prepare recommendations" on how best to "dispose of this 30 year-old equipment."
"Unfortunately, it's not a surprise because these things do occur," Black told FOX19 NOW. "Someone just, probably, literally just didn't even think that there ought to be something done with the surplus property," Black said.
Black did not have an estimate of the value of the obsolete equipment, but acknowledged it should not be there since the city hasn't used that particular meter model in years.
We asked Black about the city having a buyer a decade ago and the city failing to follow through with the sale. Black responded, "I don't know, again, if it's a 10 year ago scenario, I wasn't here so I don't know—really know—all of the details and circumstances surrounding that particular situation.
Black said he didn't fault anyone responsible in parking services for the stockpile, telling us, the city doesn't have any "centralized" policy and procedures in place for employees to know to deal with obsolete equipment.
"To give my department heads some level of credit, that doesn't exist today. That hasn't existed in Cincinnati," Black explained. That's about to change, according to Black.
"For a department head to not have proactively taken that step, have they failed taxpayers and failed the city," FOX19 NOW investigator Jody Barr asked Black, "I would probably say no," Black said, "only because there's no standard, city wide policy and procedure for them to even know that is an expectation."
We returned to the storage room on Nov. 2 and found dirt, dust and evidence the city was moving some of the equipment out of the storage room. In Black's memorandum to Bedolla, he ordered the division to submit a report with the "quantity, condition and value" of all obsolete parts inside the storage room and any other storage facility under parking services' purview.
Black did not detail a deadline for Bedolla to finish the report, but Black told FOX19 NOW during a Nov. 2 interview that he expects "a sense of urgency" in this matter and from all other city department heads in their execution of the duties of their offices.