Audits debunk ex-employee’s allegations of waste by state agencies

Posted July 30, 2014, at 3:57 p.m.
Last modified July 31, 2014, at 6:22 a.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Internal audits of allegations made by a former project manager for the Bureau of General Services have largely debunked the employee’s claims that the state is overpaying for architecture and design contracts and that he was disciplined for flagging it.

Victor Trodella, an architect from Yarmouth and former project manager for the Bureau of General Services’ Planning, Design and Construction Division, resigned from his state position in January after about two years on the job.

In a scathing resignation letter in January, Trodella alleged that he was disciplined for negotiating lower rates on architecture contracts for state projects. Trodella claimed he had saved the state more than $1.4 million.

But audits conducted by the Department of Administrative and Financial Services and the Office of the State Controller, released this week to the Bangor Daily News, found that Trodella overstated the savings he achieved for the state and that there is little or no evidence that he was retaliated against by his managers.

The audits were ordered by Sawin Millett, the now-retired finance commissioner, who said to the Bangor Daily News in January that if the investigation turned up needed reforms, those reforms would be implemented.

Trodella on Wednesday said the state’s investigation and reports were “ridiculous.”

“It’s a complete whitewash,” said Trodella, who said he might pursue the issue further but wouldn’t detail how.

The two audits focused on the personnel issues alleged by Trodella and his claims of mismanagement of state funds, respectively.

“The department found no evidence of serious misconduct warranting a personnel investigation as a result of the claims made in the Trodella resignation letter,” reads the DAFS report, which has been forwarded to the Legislature’s Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability. “However, the management review identified several opportunities for improvement and further assessment will be done to explore staff relationship within and outside the agency to determine the level of staff collaboration, ability to support each other and relationship between the management and staff.”

The separate State Controller’s investigation discredited Trodella’s allegation that he was the only project manager intent on achieving savings for the state — a point that Trodella says isn’t true.

“We found evidence that savings were achieved; however, the savings amount was less than the amount purported in the spreadsheet [which Trodella submitted with his resignation letter],” reads the report. “We also found evidence that the savings were not solely attributable to the former employee. … Evidence also revealed that numerous people participated in negotiations and decision-making over this item. This is not to diminish the former employee’s role in the negotiations. Based on our review, it appeared that [Trodella] played an integral role.”

The reports recommended several changes be made in the handling of contracts, including:

- A review of the Planning, Design & Construction Division’s role in improvements to publicly owned buildings, including “the likely divestiture of school construction projects to the Department of Education;

- An exploration of ways for the state to more efficiently provide the services;

- The development of more formal procedures and documentation for the division to use in negotiating contracts and change orders;

- The implementation of new rules to better track and assign responsibility to contractors for costs that result from design or construction errors;

- The replacement of software that is used to track projects, which the audit said currently is “not user-friendly and existing data is not complete or accurate.”

Beth Ashcroft, director of the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, said the reports would be discussed at the Government Oversight Committee’s next meeting on Aug. 20 but that a vote would have to be taken for OPEGA to proceed with any kind of investigation or recommendations.

 

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