Tiregate impacts enter third year
“Everyone wants to see the tires,” Fleet & Facilities Manager Glen Radtke said on the Friday before Christmas.
Radtke conducted several tours of the Douglas County motor pool over the past two years, showing the facility to grand jurors and county commissioners.
“I wish I’d taken photos,” he said of what he found in spring 2017 when he was temporarily assigned to the motor pool to cover Chris Oakden’s vacation.
Work to recover from the theft of more than $1 million through the sale of tires ordered for the county that didn’t fit any county vehicles is still underway nearly three years later.
County officials are working on policies and procedures to prevent the sort of consolidation of purchasing control that occurred under Oakden.
Radtke was the county employee who raised the alarm when the embezzlement was uncovered.
“When Glen came in he was a fresh set of eyes from day one,” Public Works Director Phil Ritger said. “It wasn’t like he was living with the old system and trying to figure out how to fix it. He came in and made changes to the processes based on what should have been done. A lot of what’s in place is because of how he handled it.”
Radtke said there are only a half dozen people on the county payroll who have access to parts, and they’re required to sign out every piece.
“The door used to have a regular lock,” Radtke said describing the main entrance to the county’s garage on Airport Road. “Parts salesmen and anyone who wanted to could just walk in and drop parts off and wander the shop.”
The locks have been replaced with keypads that regularly change code to ensure only authorized people can access the material.
Radtke said that the door to the parts room used to sit open all the time.
“The place was a mess,” he said. “We used to have belts up there that would fit ’70s vehicles.”
Before the embezzlement was uncovered, Oakden would enter 10-12 different descriptions for a single tire, making it virtually impossible to audit.
“We didn’t know what the inventory could possibly be,” Radtke said.
Ritger said that it appears that confusion could be intentional.
“Forensically, if you look at it, you could almost say it was intentional that a part was listed 15 different ways, because it was easy to bury inventory that way. That same guy was entering inventory.”
In order to improve inventory tracking the county is in the process of converting to a bar code system. The motor pool is subject to random quarterly audits and an annual audit.
“We know down to the elbow, how much inventory we’ve got,” County Manager Patrick Cates said.
Radtke said that when the half-dozen mechanics sign out parts they create work orders and assign the parts to a vehicle. When parts arrive at least two people check them in to make sure they are attached to a vehicle.
The county maintains 650 pieces of equipment ranging from snowblowers to generators to around 350 vehicles.
Limiting access to parts is just a portion of what the county has done to tighten up control over its departments.
“I think we put a lot of procedures in place around purchasing,” Cates said “I think the only thing we haven’t completed is the purchasing policy as the final piece of those processes.”
Douglas County Chief Financial Officer Terri Willoughby said the finance department has added a position to help purchasing process.
“We’re reaching out to departments to help them with their purchasing,” she said. “We’re reviewing all purchase orders that come through to ensure that there’s budget in place, the purchase is appropriate and any bidding was complete if it was required.”
Building a policy has been more of a task, with the county gathering samples of policies from around the state and compiling that for the county.
“We know we’ve got a lot of policies we need to update,” Cates said. “We just need to figure out how to get the resources to do that without adding people.”
The county had a purchasing department that was cut in the Great Recession. It was around that time that Oakden was put in charge of the motorpool.
A Nevada Division of Investigation report said the thefts appeared to have started around 2011 when he was named maintenance operations superintendent. His pay was reduced around 5 percent at that time. At the time, Oakden spent $248,000 gambling, according to state investigators. The first year when the tire budget started to balloon was 2012 when it climbed to $25,387 above budget. That was the same year that Oakden was questioned about purchasing based on a whistleblower complaint.
The thefts were uncovered March 15, 2017, when an employee found four new tires in a shed and alerted Radtke.
Oakden was placed on leave two weeks later and fired on April 10. On April 24, 2017, Oakden was killed in a vehicle collision on his way to meet with state investigators.
The state’s investigation continued until August 2018, when it was turned over to the Nevada Attorney General’s Office, which declined to prosecute anyone in a Dec. 21, 2018, letter.
A grand jury was convened in 2019 to review the report and determine if any indictments should be issued.