Doug Harvey, former County Engineer and Director of Public Utilities, was fired last December.
The decision to dismiss Harvey was apparently made by former county administrator Gregory K. Wolfrey, after an audit report revealed that the utility department’s office manager, Sharon Swift, had repeatedly failed to submit received checks to the county treasurer for deposit.
By the time this report was made public, Harvey had already fired Swift. He says that she was dismissed for reasons unrelated to the undeposited checks, which were not discovered until after her departure.
Even after Swift and Harvey left, problems, including unaddressed elevated methane levels at Hidden Rock Park, water odor issues in the Kinloch neighborhood and disputed water bills in West Creek, continued to afflict the utilities department, attracting attention from the public and the Board of Supervisors.
In January the Board of Supervisors turned down a motion to dismiss the county administrator by a 3-2 vote. But by the end of the month, Wolfrey, who was scheduled to step down in August after 23 years as Goochland’s county administrator, resigned.
Last month, Director of Community Development Don Charles released a report that indicates that the utilities department is not yet operating smoothly.
Harvey recently spoke with The Gazette about utilities issues that continue to affect the county.
Undeposited checks in the utilities department
Harvey says that after Swift was dismissed, the first undeposited checks were discovered in her office, in the bottom of a drawer in a folder cabinet.
Checks found in the department ultimately added up to $197,000 in undeposited connection fees.
But Harvey does not believe the checks indicate criminal motivations. “One file folder had cash in it, and a criminal wouldn’t leave cash there,” he said. “I think (Swfit) was overwhelmed at work and didn’t let anyone know.”
Swift, who was also interviewed by The Gazette recently, agrees that she was responsible for carrying out several duties, including managing the office and overseeing utility billing.
“The office tripled in size during the time I was there, in terms of customers,” she said. “We were much larger, without additional help; there were additional inspectors, but no additional help in the office.”
Swift says she hasn’t spoken with anyone at the utilities department since her dismissal and so does not know details about the discovered checks.
“I’m not sure what they were for, because I don’t know what checks were held,” she said.
Both Swift and Harvey pointed out that certain fees, such as deposit checks for fire hydrant meters and plumbing permits, were traditionally held pending further action.
But Harvey admits that the number found undeposited was excessive. “When we found the checks, (Utilities Engineer) Matt Saccone and (Utility Inspector) Mark Wilds, we called to ask for new checks.”
He says that the department created a spreadsheet that indicated what checks they had found, from whom, and for how much. The lost checks had been reported, he says, to Wolfrey.
By Dec. 19 word of the missing checks had leaked to the public, and Harvey was dismissed, he says, before he could fully explain the situation, and its status.
Landifill at Hidden Rock Park
In June 2008, a consent order was issued against Goochland after the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) discovered that the county had not followed required methods of lowering methane levels.
Since then many in the county have wondered why safety concerns at the park weren’t made public years ago.
“We checked with DEQ and soccer fields were an acceptable use,” said Harvey, who said the agency knew that the county was using the park for annual fireworks displays.
Harvey says that the court order prompted the county to work with an engineering firm, Draper Aden, to address elevated methane levels. But one supervisor thought the county was spending too much money, he said, so the county bid the project out.
“But why would you want to change horses in the middle of the stream?” asked Harvey. “Now we had a new firm, and it took time for Resource International to get up to speed… they were a new firm and had to look over eleven years worth of data… and they were not moving fast enough.”
Resource International is currently overseeing the methane situation at the landfill. “Later after we fired Draper Aden, a question came up and we needed the answer…” said Harvey, “but we were told, well, you fired us.”
The Tuckahoe Creek Service District
The TCSD always made money, said Harvey. “There was not enough to pay the debt service—that’s $63 million—but that is paid for by the ad valoreum tax,” he added.
Harvey noted that the debt service would eventually entail a balloon payment, and that the goal was for the TCSD to make $100 million in 10 years.
Why were you dismissed?
Harvey says that when he arrived to work on Dec. 22, he discovered that he was locked out of his computer. He says he has 23 years of retirement built up, but can’t access that until he is 65.
“This just bothered me,” he said of the fact he didn’t speak with board members before he was dismissed. “After 20 years of service, and not to have one board member come and talk to you? I would have been glad to talk to them, and go over these things, and get them straight. ”
Harvey says he was also surprised that the county fired him without having someone in place to take over his position.
“Saccone was only out of school for a year and a half,” he said, “and (Community Development Director) Don (Charles) is not an engineer, he’s got to rely on others.”
“I was there for 20 years, 14 of the 20 by myself, and I knew a lot about this stuff,” said Harvey, noting payment and percentage arrangements between Goochland and Henrico County as an example. “There’s going to be a lot that will pop up that nobody has an answer for. They will eventually figure out, but it will be hard.”
The former utilities director is currently unemployed. He is looking, both in neighboring counties and in places as far away as New Orleans and even Iraq, for another position.
In the meantime, Harvey says he hasn’t spoken with Wolfrey.
“I didn’t forsee that, when he resigned,” he said. “I haven’t talked to him since he fired me. But to me, we could disagree on something, we’re still friends—you work with someone for 20 years, you might not agree with everything.”