Transparency Should Never Be Optional: An Open Rebuttal To Mike Lorenz

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piggy bankThe bad news is that work and reality have kept me far too busy to do much blogging of late.  These things happen. [foot]Especially when you haven’t finagled a city contract that makes earning a profit as easy as submitting some falsified invoices.[/foot]

The good news is that you can count on certain members of the Fort Smith city government to continue doing the same shady, opaque behaviors, regardless of whether I am blogging or not.  They may not be transparent, but they are oddly consistent in their lack of transparency.

Still, with all the wringing of hands, rending of garments, and removal of issues from Board of Directors’ agendas over in Hell on the Border, I figured it was time to follow up with a response to  some of the statements from Director Mike Lorenz.  So that should be fun.

It makes no sense that every occasion that Director Merry has presented this idea[,] he is very adamant that he in no way feels that any wrongdoing has occurred and has re-iterated this multiple times, as has Director Webber [sic] with her support/second of the motions.  Why request an audit of a vendor/contractor’s billing when there is no concern of wrongdoing by the person(s) requesting the audit. [Pretty sure he meant to put a question mark here.]

Why?  How about “because someone with a demonstrated track record of being right about such things has pointed to several instances of improper billing by your city attorney, and those are the kinds of things that a responsible group of directors would want to look into”?  Does that get us there?  No?

Maybe some more examples might help.

1. On November 27, 2013, attorney Rick Wade billed the city for 0.9 hours (54 minutes) for what he referred to as “Received and reviewed e-mail from Corporal Matt Holloway; phone conference with Corporal Holloway. Which sounds reasonable…until you realize that the phone call was 9 minutes and 39 seconds. And, per FSPD Sgt. Daniel Grubbs, “the email simply asked Attorney Rick Wade to call him at his earliest convenience.” Which means that Rick Wade billed 54 minutes for a 9:39 phone call and an email that was, basically, two sentences at most. You would literally have to look up every single word in that email, and read the definitions very slowly,  to get anywhere near 54 minutes for that transaction.

(Also worth noting: Rick Wade’s comments on that recording belie the actual facts of Sgt. Bales’ suspension — which was reversed on appeal — and sound as if Wade had no idea that the Chief of Police would admit at the Civil Service Hearing that the officers were suspended because certain staff officers were irritated at them for making a statement that the Chief asked them to make.  The transcript of the hearing is an interesting read if you’re into such things or just want to see which officers the Chief named as being the reason behind the suspensions.)

2. As mentioned in a previous post,[foot]but subsequently overlooked by the people who want to pretend like all of this is “about the billing of phone calls by Daily & Woods”[/foot] on February 17, Doug Carson billed the city 0.8 hours (48 minutes) for one call to me, one “letter” to me, and one “letter” from me.  In reality, it was a 2-minute phone call, a one-paragraph email from him to me, and an email of fewer than 10 words from me to him in response. How that could take 48 minutes is beyond me, but it does not seem to bother Mike Lorenz in the least. Maybe his concept of time is different from most people’s.

3. Or maybe you like your billing scandals a little more abstract, so how about this: On March 27, Rick Wade billed the city 0.8 hours (48 minutes) to “Edit[] proposed motion for protective order.”  That’s all well and good (and fairly standard when discovery is likely to include personnel files), but that motion was never filed.  Instead, the city, through Daily & Woods, opted to provide such half-assed discovery responses that my clients had to file a motion to compel discovery (which we won on May 9).  Following that Daily & Woods loss, Doug Carson contacted me about a protective order, which I was fine with.

Thing is, if Rick Wade had already drafted and edited and billed the city for a protective order back in March , why did Doug Carson do the same thing again on May 23, when he billed some portion of 2.3 hours to “Draft and revised proposed protective order (4 pages)“? No new discovery requests relevant to the protective order had been submitted subsequent to Rick Wade’s drafting and editing of an unfiled motion months before. Maybe Mike Lorenz doesn’t mind that the city pays for duplicate work; the citizens probably do.

4. Variations on a theme: Some time in February, Ray Gosack got his undies in a knot because I had contacted the Board of Directors.  He was apparently not a fan of someone talking to his bosses in an effort to avoid litigation against the city.  Carson sent me a letter (for which he billed the city some amount as part of an unitemized 5.6 hour block).  I responded (for which he billed the city for some amount as part of an unitemized 5.8 hour block).[foot]I mentioned the unitemized blocks only to again point out that it is impossible to look at their bills and know if the specific amount of time spent on each task was appropriate and justified.[/foot]  Nothing more was said about it.

Which makes you wonder why, then, Carson would also bill the city on April 7 and 8 — nearly three weeks after my response letter — for researching and drafting a motion and brief “to limit/prohibit contact with City personnel,” especially considering no such motion and brief was ever filed.

Again…these are just a few examples related only to the litigation I’m involved in. But, between these and the still-unexplained 18 phone calls that were billed but never made, are we all really supposed to assume that this case is an anomaly and Daily & Woods are not doing the same sort of stuff in other cases?[foot]Call that foreshadowing, Holmes.[/foot]

Returning to Lorenz’s comments….

I also disagree in [sic] the contention that this audit is about transparency.

Some people disagree that the Earth is round.  That doesn’t mean that the disagreement is a valid position.

Engaging in an expensive audit to simply “prove there isn’t an issue” is a misguided suggestion.

The “expensive” reference comes from the assumption that an audit would cost the city $30,000, which apparently was just an estimate that someone threw out in a meeting and isn’t based on anything factual.  If that’s an accurate number, then sure, it seems like a lot on its face.  But consider this: in the example of Rick Wade and the email/phone call that I mentioned up in #1, he billed 54 minutes for what was actually 12 minutes, tops, if Wade is a very slow reader.

Forty-two extra minutes at $140/hour is $98.  There are roughly 250 working days in a year.  250 * $98 = $24,500.

Which means (a) if an audit only located one instance like this in each day, it has paid for 82% of its cost, and (b) it takes less than one extra hour of billing, aggregated among the seven attorneys at Daily & Woods, to surpass $30,000.

The records in question as well as the responses to the accusations and proof therein have been presented to the media, though maybe a release of simpler and more detailed information report about this subject along with the findings of a billing FOIA request from Mr. Campbell on June 6 which showed Daily & Woods had under billed for services between January 13 and June 6, 2014 to satisfy this question.

This is not a coherent sentence.  However, to the extent that Lorenz appears to be suggesting that Canfield’s self-review showed that I was making stuff up, that’s absurd.  Saying, “uh, his voice mail was full” (which is a lie) does not explain anything about Daily & Woods’ phone bills.  We’ve been over this.

As for the “under billed for services” thing, Canfield claims to have found 4.5 hours of work that were not billed to the city between January and May.  That’s $670, or less than 10% of the nearly $7,000 they billed for a two-week FOIA suit back in November.[foot]Speaking of that suit, someone made a great point the other day: had Canfield given the PD the correct answer about releasing the records, he could have reasonably billed for about .5 hours of work, or $70.  By giving them the wrong answer and getting them sued, his firm got $7,000.  Totally just a lucky coincidence, I’m sure.[/foot]

Mr. Campbell is NOT an unbiased third party and has everything to gain by providing distractions and potential conflicts between administration, the board, and the legal counsel for the city.

I’m not an unbiased party, but Jerry Canfield is?[foot]Because, honestly, having Jerry Canfield review Daily & Woods’ billing seems a lot like having your street-crimes unit headed up by a cop who has been caught having sex with a known prostitute while he was on duty.[/foot]  It doesn’t matter to me who the city attorney for Fort Smith is; I’m pretty sure Canfield would not say the same.  So, that’s an interesting interpretation of the meaning of “unbiased,” Mike.

Besides, while I uncovered this info because I’m involved in some lawsuits, that does not change the veracity of the things that I have written and have fully documented.  I showed 23 phone calls that seem not to have been made, and I provided all of my phone bills to support my allegations.  Canfield found 5 of those 23, then waved his hands and made up some absurd excuse for the other 18.

But, to hear Lorenz tell it, if I was driving past his house, saw that his roof was on fire, and ran to the door to tell him, he wouldn’t even want to look for himself, because I’m “biased.”  Brilliant plan.[foot]By the way, any assertion that I am trying to distract from the lawsuits is silly.  If anything, I wish more people were paying attention to them so they could see things like evidence mysteriously disappearing and the Chief having already admitted to all of the elements of a whistle-blower violation.[/foot]  The ostrich defense always works out so well for people.

I have serious doubts that hiring an in-house legal team is a more cost-effective option as it would take more than a single attorney as we would most likely need to staff for 1 attorney, 1 paralegal and a receptionist or legal assistant.

You think an attorney, a paralegal, and a receptionist are going to be less cost-effective than a seven-lawyer private firm whose billings jumped 25% between 2011 and 2012 and have not gone back to pre-2012 levels since?  Really?

Let me guess: you think you’ll have to hire outside counsel for a whole bunch of stuff.  Which, I suppose, means you’ve never heard of the Arkansas Municipal League.  You might want to look into that, honestly.  It’s a cost and risk management pool that would pretty much guarantee that your legal bills would be less than they are now.

At the end of the day, Lorenz’s comments are more informative for what they say about him than what the words actually say.  He — and those who keep removing these issues from the agenda — are willing to cling to any manner of disingenuous “explanation” if it means they can avoid the kind of transparency that comes from taking a critical look at how nearly half a million dollar of city money is being spent each year.  No matter how many different examples of improper billing are listed, Lorenz (and Kevin Settle, Keith Lau, and George Catsavis) throw out platitudes about “trusting” Daily & Woods and act like anyone who doesn’t trust them has an agenda.

When it would only take 2,820 signatures on a petition to force a vote and change the form of government in Fort Smith, you’d think that the existing leaders would be loath to incur the wrath and ire of so much of the population.  But then…what do I know?  I’m obviously biased.