The Mystery of the Misplaced Light Bulbs is getting more attention, thanks to Chattanooga City Auditor Stan Sewell.
"OK, so it's not exactly a page-turner. But with hundreds of jobs on the line, thousands of missing light bulbs and millions of dollars in potential billing discrepancies, ... Sewell has pledged not to rest until he solves this whodunit," Times Free Press reporter Ellis Smith wrote in Monday's paper.
Sewell is camped out at the city-owned EPB headquarters auditing an audit that EPB did in response to Sewell's first audit that began in February. That's when City Council members questioned delays and disagreements over the city's streetlight replacement contract with Global Green Lighting. Global Green's state-of-the-art LEDs, by the way, would save a whopping 68 percent of the energy currently used by city streetlights.
It all started with EPB telling the city the new LED lights were failing at a rate of one in five. They weren't. But based on EPB's incorrect statement, along with other flawed cost and billing numbers, the city administration began delays in buying and installing the final two-thirds of 27,000 LEDs. Officials say the cost is too great: $27 million in total with a 15-year return on investment.
Sewell's first audit uncovered EPB's flawed numbers, which included billing discrepancies to the tune of about $250,000 a year. Sewell found that the cost would be $24 million with a 13-year return on investment.
But EPB -- standing to lose a chunk of its $3-million-a-year contract with the city -- responded with its own audit. EPB acknowledged the city was overbilled for 6,200 power-hungry mercury vapor lights that had been long-since removed, but EPB officials said those charges were more than offset by the city's being underbilled for the per-unit cost of newer high-pressure sodium lamps.
Sewell is saying, "Show me."
The unfortunate thing is that the city is still backing away from the Global Green contract, and the mayor wants to rebid the process and replace 700 lights a year rather than all this year. The mayor's new plan calls for EPB, the city and any potential vendor to work together to create a plan to operate the lights. They will look for ways to execute new maintenance and meter-reading agreements and new contracts to reflect slower LED light deployment. That leaves the Global Green contract in limbo while expanding EPB's role.
Is it not already clear enough that EPB can't handle its own book work and we should get it out of the streetlight business as soon as possible?
Council member Larry Grohn said it best: "EPB has a serious problem with credibility. ... It's craziness, absolute craziness."
The lights aren't the mystery. EPB is.
More kudos are in order for President Barack Obama, who slipped out of the White House secretly Saturday evening ahead of Memorial Day to make a surprise trip to Afghanistan on Sunday.
The president thanked U.S. troops for their service during a decade of war there, and he said their sacrifices had ensured the country would never again be used as a base for terrorist attacks against the United States.
"I thank you as your commander in chief because you inspire me," Obama told about 3,000 troops in a hangar at Bagram Air Field. "I'm here to say thank you. And I'm here to say how proud I am of you."
What a great idea for Chattanoogan's to offer couches, rooms and homes for short-term rental -- usually to tourists.
Many other locales offer these laid-back and comfortable stays already.
What is a little startling is that the city wants a piece of the action -- everything from a zoning say about who an owner can invite to his or her house and for how long, to a percent of the take.
What happened to the idea that a person's home is his or her castle?
And aren't these homeowners already paying property taxes? And sales tax on the furnishings and toiletries and other items? Won't their guests be paying sales tax on meals and tickets to local attractions?