• Unqualified Atlanta water workers costing you money

    By: Aaron Diamant

    Updated:

    ATLANTA,None - A Channel 2 investigation uncovered unqualified workers inside Atlanta's Department of Watershed Management in what critics call a failing program originally designed to save taxpayers money.
     
    A recent investigation by the city of Atlanta's Ethics Office found that in 2007, a top watershed official noticed workers were, according to the investigation, "unable to repair equipment according to industry standards." The repairs they would make, "would only last a short time."

    The report said Watershed Management would call contractors and outside vendors to, "make repairs the employees were being paid to do."

    Since then, the city of Atlanta's Department of Watershed Management added dozens of  mechanics and electricians to the payroll.

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    "Those are really the unsung heroes of the city," said Jo Ann Macrina, the commissioner of the Department of Watershed Management.

    However, Channel 2’s Aaron Diamant talked to a whistle-blower at the Department of Watershed Management who told him, "Some people could do the job and some people can't."

    Diamant asked the whistle-blower if they worked with employees who did not know what they were doing. "Sure, of course," replied the whistle-blower.

    The Department of Watershed Management started the Journeymen Apprenticeship Program to retrain workers who could not make necessary repairs. The program was an effort to get workers up to speed and eliminate contractors. Workers who signed on to the program could get a bump in pay if they met certain goals.

    According to the report, in 2010, 20 employees enrolled in the Using Mathematics in the Plant class, and "a significant majority did not pass" the final exam.

    After a retest scores shot way up. Diamant asked the whistle-blower if there were allegations of cheating. "When I was in the class, taking the test, it's a possibility," replied the whistle-blower.

    The managers at the Department of Watershed Management thought so, too.

    "There were some testing irregularities, but there wasn't any solid evidence," said Macrina.

    Workers received another test and according to the report, "still did not receive a 70 percent score." Even when management decided to lower the passing score to 60 percent it "was not enough for everyone to pass," the report said.


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    "Around here, unfortunately, there is a big gap between a good idea and making it work," said Howard Shook, an Atlanta City Council member.

    Shook said the most frustrating part was that over the first two full years of the program, 44 workers signed up for the program but only 19 completed the course.

    During that time, Watershed Management records show it continued to pay contractors to complete the repairs city workers were unable to fix, spending more than $8 million.

    "This program does not seem to be delivering on its promises to the detriment of the customers and the employees," said Shook.

    Macrina said it is a success. "This program is now saving the city, the department, a lot of money. We are realizing between $20 million to $30 million per year in savings by training our own staff to do some of these jobs," said Macrina.

    Despite repeated request made by Diamant, the Watershed Department did not provide any specific documentation supporting the claim they have saved $20 to $30 million per year.

    "We think it's very, very successful," said Macrina.

    Shook admitted to Diamant that since signing off on the training program, it fell off the council's radar. Shook promised to look into the program further.

    Diamant spoke with an Atlanta Watershed customer who has had issues with her bills. Vigdis Bauer received a $3,800 bill from the Department of Watershed Management.

    "That's when I almost, I can't tell you what I said. I can't repeat it here," said Bauer.

    Bauer has been involved in a six-month battle with the Department of Watershed Management to get her bill straightened out.

    "I was sick, literally sick," said Bauer. When Diamant shared about the program instituted by the city to train their workers Bauer replied, "I wanna go down there, and I wanna shake them and say, 'Do something right.'"

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