From out of chaos in 2012,
Clewiston today is progressing

By Raoul Bataller

CLEWISTON, FL (Friday, Aug. 19, 2016) — The appeal of new toys is irresistible.  Looking back now, it gave way in Clewiston in 2012 to a wild rush led by Utilities Director Kevin McCarthy to get the toys to keep up with the Joneses.  

It was secretive, and a major factor, one of many, in the catastrophic toppling of the Steve McKown administration in November of 2012, a factor notable for McCarthy never making clear why the $3.5 million Honeywell contract collapsed.

It was also one of many turbulent crises, a real knock-down, drag-out, kept at arms length by former City Atty Charlie Schoech, who resigned last week.  

And it was the crisis that led City Commissioner Julio Rodriguez to wonder aloud whether McCarthy had become the real management power of the town.

That dust settled long ago, and McCarthy who resigned in December, 2012, was replaced by one of the most experienced information technology experts in this region, Danny Williams.

Technical post mortem

The $3.5 million expense of the controversial Honeywell package of 2012 was supposedly to be offset by a complex energy-efficiency package.

Savings gimmicks were suggested by Honeywell, including replacement of lightbulbs with LEDs which can be done now under an economical FMPA program, lift-station attachments, thermostat controls for John Boy or other rooms that now amount to a $50 device monitored on cell phones.  

But all of it came under an impractical 20-year contract. 

“I wouldn't want any technology contract in today's world longer than five years.  Never,” Williams says.

Nor should the town have leaped so boldly into the future of technology.   Now, parts of Honeywell’s idea are being emplaced as they can be afforded.  

At the center of Honeywell’s new toys were smart meters which eliminate meter readers or allow disconnects remotely, no need to dispatch someone to a non-pay customer, and no need to deploy in the whole area, just do the non-pay areas, with savings of time and crews expenses for fuel.  

“Am I trying to deploy immediately?” said Williams.   “No. But the future is coming, and you want to plan, and get your ideas.  Can the City of Clewiston do it right now?  No.”

Instead, Williams makes constant cost comparisons, and is cautious when salesmen come bringing new products.

Patience

h-gsn: Give them a couple of years to work out the bugs?

DWilliams: “Exactly.  That’s what I’m doing.  When I got here in 2013, I started just looking at it.  

“You want something to be out there for a few years so they iron out the bugs.

“I came from the phone world.  Before, a phone system would last 10 years.  Today, it’s three to five years, so you don't want to invest that kind of money.  In a few years, you would still be paying, and then the operating software, firewalls, servers would be outdated.  Software is going to be reccuring, and sales guys try to fool you, pointing out that you're going to get rid of a $15/hour guys, not mentioning that you just created an information technology department requiring you to hire two or three $40/hour guys, and buy servers, and buy repeaters.  And living in the lightning capital as we do, we'd be sending an IT person up that pole.” 

h-gsn: And the Clewiston labor pool doesn't have a lot of those tech people.

DWilliams: “Right.  I looked at several, just to get ideas.  Because of where we live, we have a lot of non-pays, and disconnects, every month, mostly in certain places where there are apartments, people moving in and out, or where there are dogs and meter readers can't get in without an appointment.

“And there are a lot of call-outs for disconnects, often at night charging $75.”  

A meter today may be $200, with everything on it to allow disconnect, reconnect, read voltage to learn why a light bill is so high, what are peak usage times.  And there are ‘hosted solutions’ servers.  A hosted solution server rents for a couple hundred dollars a month.  Other companies bring a server to your IT room and you have to update it in five years.

Quoted $1.7 million

One company quoted $1.7 million with meters loaded covering everything they could possibly have, including water and electric.  But another company would allow Williams, on a small budget, to keep to $20,000 the annual cost of new and change-out meters that operate on cell phones.  So, he focuses on certain areas, apartments, condos, whatever, and that’s what he keeps to, using it to reduce, not eliminate, numbers of meter readers.

DWilliams: “I've got too many other things to do, a wastewater plant that's got a lot of issues, I've got electric that's old, I've got water lines that're old, a lot here in the city to maintain.”

h-gsn: What do you do with water pipes that have been down there 100 years?

DWilliams: “We replac a lot of them.”

He found an area with constant two or three nights a week water leaks, and had in-house crews change out all those pipes.  Water quality is tested every day, “overall it's good.”

In 2013 there were nine servers at Clewiston's Utilities department.  Now there are fewer.  

There were also 90 transformers on poles near commercial establishments that reserved more power than the customer needed, a waste.  In some cases, the customer had left the area.  A lot of transformers were too large for the customer.  

Poorly wired

Some of the equipment was so poorly wired that a search had to be made for repairmen.  One crewman offered to spend a week fixing them in Clewiston at $1,500 a day, if the town provided tools.  Someone cheaper from Glades Electric does it, instead.  A transformer vendor that had been working for McCarthy offered a rebuilt at $10,000.  A new unit was located for less than $7,000.  Line loss was rising from the 7.2% range in 2013 until tree-trimming efforts eliminated it.  Light shows at night from wires striking limbs went dark.  

Also, IT support costing $40,000 was replaced with a suitable $2,500 contract.  Two water crew positions were combined allowing hiring of a full time air conditioning and lift station technician, overtime was cut by up to $20,000 annually.  Numerous other projects included rehabilitation of the lift station at LaFrontera for $52,000 under budget.  

“Little by little, every day, we make improvements,” Williams says.

Clewiston's discretionary reserve is low until it can save up some bucks

Hendry-Glades Sunday News
By Raoul Bataller
CLEWISTON, FL (Friday, Oct. 21, 2016) — Clewiston, still in the aftermath of the budgetary chaos of former Town Mgr. Steve McKown, has tightened up considerably. Uproariously high golf course expenses under McKown and colleague, Utilities Dir. Kevin McCarthy, are down two thirds, near the $250,000 mark. And a penalty for failing to properly use a major grant at the Clewiston Commerce park by McKown’s people, while there was still time, has been paid back to the lender to the tune of over a third of a million dollars.
But a nagging holdover of costs has left the town’s reserves below nominal minimals, and the State of Florida would like something done about that. The possible solution of raising taxes incurred the resistance of veteran commissioners Mali Gardner and Julio Rodriguez, photos right, who argued against any increase in the burdens on Clewiston taxpayers. 

Gone is longtime Finance Dir. Ted Byrd, who seemed as early as 2012 to be paralyzed by fear at the directions he was being given amid the budgetary chaos of former Town Mgr. Steve McKown, who was known to have been an accountant. Byrd’s problems included troublesome accounting software partially installed then under the supervision of former utilities Dir. Kevin McCarthy, whose resignation was accepted in December of 2012. It was another expensive software package, reportedly $250,000, that left Byrd in late 2012 unable to report with any assurance exactly how much money the town had.

FMPA
Mayor Phil Roland, photos left, called tonight for intensive review of an upcoming option to renew a 30-year contract for electricity purchase from the electrical cooperative FMPA.  
It’s a pricey contract, and Roland wants to see alternatives to the venerable contract that was first brought 20 or 30 years ago to Clewiston by Kevin McCarthy’s father, the late former City Commissioner Dan McCarthy. 
The senior McCarthy dominated without challenge rival sources of energy for decades in Clewiston, electric and gas, one of which he and his family owned. There was a time in Clewiston when every hand washed every other hand with the full faith and unquestioning confidence of the public, and FMPA was subsequently a source of political influence in town exerted by his son by virtue of Kevin McCarthy sitting on FMPA’s board of directors.

UTILITIES, LEGAL
Meanwhile the Utilities department seems to be on a more fit operational path after the departure of McCarthy. Without his contracts of the mom and pop ilk in the Utilities office, and electrical equipment hanging on poles where they shouldn’t have been, it’s no longer looking like the McCarthy family’s rickety Glades Gas.
Another character in the McCarthy/McKown/Byrd chaos, former Town Atty Charles Schoech, is also no longer with the town. This week City Commissioner Kristine Petersen urged a renewed effort be made to secure his replacement.

ZONING
Meanwhile, the casual and random approach to planning and zoning of most of the last two decades produced a new embarrassment this week as a lawyer for the highly prized Hampton Inn’s planned move to Clewiston gave a show-and-tell presentation on the almost infinite varieties of parking spaces that have gotten approved in town. The suggestion was that a new standard be adopted for the town as a whole.

h-gsn.com  The little paper out in the country tells it like it is.