The City of East Lansing’s “Resolution to Amend the Purchasing Policies to Include a Provision for Green Fleet Purchasing” – Resolution 2014-8, passed by Council in 2014 – has been used to purchase equipment to optimize route efficiency but also to monitor worker performance, according to information ELi obtained from the City through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
What is the Green Fleet Policy?
Resolution 2014-8 allows for the consideration of fuel efficiency in purchasing vehicles and encourages other “going green” efforts in East Lansing government, such as reducing fleet size, retrofitting cars to increase fuel efficiency, optimizing driving routes and training City staff to operate vehicles more efficiently.
As ELi reported in September, the City of East Lansing has purchased 21 new vehicles just since September 2019 at a total cost of $1,722,145, bringing the total fleet size to 118 vehicles. The purchases included smaller Ford vehicles, primarily SUVs to be used by individual City workers.
The City invoked the Green Fleet policy to justify the purchase of three 2020 Ford Escape SUV SE Sport Hybrids to be assigned specifically to three workers: Cathy DeShambo and Ron Lacasse of the Department of Public Works, and Tim McCaffrey of Parks and Recreation. City staff tell ELi that the policy allowed “for additional funding to be allocated for green vehicles.”
After we published findings on the purchase of new vehicles, an ELi reader expressed interest in finding out if the City had followed through on other parts of the Green Fleet resolution besides investing in hybrid vehicles.
ELi reached out to the City with questions, and the limited responses we received suggested that the City’s efforts to limit fuel emissions relies chiefly on reducing unnecessary travel, optimizing routes by using GPS technologies, and training workers in driving techniques while informing them of the no-idling policy.
When City Manager George Lahanas declined to answer follow up questions, ELi filed a FOIA request to find out more about employee training and the use of GPS units for route optimization.
Please Avoid Toledo, Says Training
Reaching a roadblock in terms of answers to clarifying questions, ELi made a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to find out more about how the City uses GPS for route optimization and trains its workers.
All documents provided to ELi related to training workers in “green driving” were labeled “Time Management” and appear to date to March 24, 2015. No training information from a more recent date was provided. (If more written information existed, it would have had to be provided to us under FOIA.)
The 2015 time management documents included two PowerPoint slides and an accompanying memorandum for Department of Public Works and Environmental Services employees, providing “expectations for the productive use of work time and resources.”
Featured above is the first slide, showing a presumably hyperbolic rendering of what workers should avoid doing. It speaks to resource conservation, particularly taking “efficient routes.” However, this is the only place where fuel efficiency was mentioned in the training presentation slides.
The second slide provides the rationale for resource conservation, which focuses almost exclusively on public perception.
As shown, the slide features a CATA bus driver texting while presumably working and provides a story about public outcry following a public worker seeming to shirk duties in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The associated memorandum to DPW workers focuses on time management expectations and forbids stopping at stores and restaurants, wasting time by taking inefficient routes, and excessive idling. The letter also reminded workers that inefficient use of work time could result in disciplinary action.
GPS devices used to monitor worker performance
ELi used FOIA to request documents from 2014 onward — the year in which the Green Fleet resolution passed — but discussions between DeShambo, Lacasse, and Human Resources Director Shelli Neumann show that some vehicles might have had a GPS tracking device as early as January 2014.
One document provided to FOIA also showed a list of 13 vehicles that had a GPS unit as of March 2015.
In spring 2015, DPW Infrastructure Administrator Ron Lacasse began to investigate the purchase of GPS for a significant number of vehicles. Lahanas along with the then-City Attorney Tom Yeadon and then-Finance Director Mary Haskell signed a contract with Verizon in November of 2015 to purchase 55 GPS units, 14 sensors, and associated accessories.
The total one time purchase of equipment and installation cost taxpayers $11,128, and the contract included a monthly service fee of $1,110, including an extra $80 a month to keep a closer eye on 12 City vehicles. Instead of receiving pings with vehicle locations every two minutes – the standard provided by Verizon, the City paid to have four vehicles ping every 15 seconds and eight every 60 seconds.
A payment ledger demonstrates that the City almost always paid less than the anticipated $1,110 a month. Instead, monthly fees varied from $841 a month to $1,032. The City reduced its expenditure by changing ping settings and cutting off service to 10 GPS units in October of 2017.
The City’s Green Fleet resolution calls for departments to “minimize vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by route optimization and trip elimination” in order to use vehicles in the “most energy efficient way possible.” But, neither the Green Fleet policy nor environmental sustainability seems to have figured into the purchase of the GPS units based on documents provided.
Email correspondence from Lacasse and DeShambo focus almost exclusively on monitoring worker productivity. The purchase of sensors was considered to see how often plows were being raised and lowered and salt sprayed on the road. Tracking devices were considered for lawn mowers and other equipment to monitor how long it took workers to complete their tasks.
Lacasse told DPW Director Scott House, who had removed the tracking devices for mowers, that he and DeShambo thought that the investment was a good idea because “Staff is on the route or in the area they were supposed to be but not actually getting out to do anything. Especially after lunch.”
Emails suggest that disciplinary action was taken against only one employee in early 2014 after monitoring revealed the individual spent 60 minutes of the day unproductive and took an “unexplained trip back to DPW.”
The East Lansing Independent Employees Union opposed information from the GPS trackers being used to penalize workers since it had not been included in the contract. But HR Director Neumann argued that violations can be punished regardless of how they were discovered.
This summer, DeShambo and Lacasse met with Verizon again, according to email correspondence, to discuss new pricing options and the purchase of several new GPS units. When DeShambo suggested removing one vehicle from the list of vehicles needing a GPS unit, Lacasse advocated for keeping it since it was the on-call vehicle used by some employees.
DeShambo left it to Scott House to decide if her and Lacasse’s specially-assigned City cars needed GPS units installed. It is unclear whether they were or not.
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