Government / Politics

Consulting company terminates its own consultant after he delivers flawed report to fire committee

Because of complacency within its own ranks, Emergency Services Consulting Int. fires one of its contractors along with his boss, after delivering report to fire committee. New report due in February.

Emergency Services Consulting, Int. [ESC], headquartered in Wilsonville, Oregon, which was hired by the county for $57,083.01 to conduct a study into the possibility of forming a fire district in San Benito County fired its own consultant, Peter Bryan, after he delivered a report to a special meeting of the San Benito County Fire Protection Advisory Committee.

The revelation came up during the Jan. 23 board of supervisors’ meeting when Supervisor Mark Medina asked for an update on the committee meeting. Supervisor Jerry Muenzer, who is on the committee, told him that ESC gave the report during the special meeting, but he has since learned that the company was not happy with its own report and will be rewriting it. He said the new draft should be delivered toward the end of January.

“They gave us a report and they’re not happy with it?” Medina questioned. 

“I don’t know if Mr. (Kevin) O’Neill (director of the county’s Office of Emergency Services) would want to come up and elaborate on that report, because this is a report we spent money on,” said Supervisor Anthony Botelho. “The consultants that worked on it had to kind of revamp it a couple of times before submitting it to the committee for review. It ended up being not entirely accurate so even the leadership of the consulting team wasn’t pleased.”

O’Neill described the process of conducting the study as a “bumpy road,” that caused delays and setbacks.

“Ultimately, what this came down to was a project manager (Peter Bryan) from the firm who this was his first project,” O’Neill said. “He gave the presentation at the last fire protection committee meeting and, to put it bluntly, he didn’t do a very good job.”

O’Neill said he discussed his concerns with Bryan and the conversation was passed up the “management food chain.”

“I spoke to the CEO, who did a review of the plan and he couldn’t stop apologizing,” O’Neill said. “He was embarrassed by it and is committed to getting it right. Due to a lack of substance in the plan and the quality of the final project, the project manager has been let go from the firm and they now have full-time staff members working on it pretty much full time to get this done by the end of February to essentially rewrite the whole plan.”

O’Neill said even though it has been frustrating, he is optimistic that the end product will prove to be useable. He said the report that was turned in wasn’t, for a number of reasons.

“For example, the consultant during the presentation pointed to a bar graph that showed a decline in the number of calls for service in 2016,” he said. “He was asked by, I believe it was Mayor Ignacio (Velazquez) ‘Why was there a decline?’ He (Bryan) said ‘That was just an error in the data and that’s probably not an accurate statistic.’ What wasn’t accurate was what he said.”

O’Neill said call volumes change from year to year and 2016 was just a low year.

“So, the guy who wrote the study didn’t even know what the study was,” he said. “And he was making recommendations based on numbers that he perceived to be inaccurate. He’s no longer involved in the project and we’re looking forward to getting something in the coming weeks that all three jurisdictions can use to approve fire protection services.”

Muenzer said the fire ad hoc committee was recommending that there be a joint agency meeting the end of February to hear the report.

O’Neill spoke with BenitoLink Jan. 24, explaining that the supervisors approved the study March 2017. He said after Bryan delivered his report that he [O’Neill] and several members of the committee raised concerns that the report neither delivered what was expected, nor did it have enough detailed information to back up his recommendations.

“He was supposed to determine the feasibility of forming a joint fire department between Hollister, San Juan Bautista and the county,” O’Neill said. “He was supposed to figure out if it was feasible and how, whether through a joint-powers or a fire protection district.”

O’Neill said Bryan, who was a fire chief with 30 years’ experience, was hired by ESC as an independent contractor, but was not solely responsible for his failure.

“On paper he looked like the right guy,” O’Neill said. “But his boss, who was supposed to oversee him, was pretty much complacent. That’s where the breakdown originated. Both of them ended up being terminated.”

O’Neill said after the meeting he called Bryan to explain his and the committee’s concerns about the report.

“This is where he pretty much dug his own grave because we were ready to move on and we were going to have to eat this one,” he said. “But I talked to him and said we were going to do a second joint meeting and he had to get his facts straight. He passed it off to another person who is a full-time employee and that’s where it all started to come out. He reviewed the plan and started talking to his bosses. That’s when the CEO and everybody else started taking notice.”

O’Neill clarified that Bryan’s recommendations were not totally off the mark, but that there was little substance to them.

“There was no good scientific reason for his recommendations,” he said, adding that the company’s policy is to recommend what is true and not necessarily what the client is hoping for.

“That’s always the fear,” he said. “We’ve got to be careful because we don’t want them coming back and giving different recommendations because it looks like we didn’t like the first recommendation. The thing is, the recommendations they did give are fine. They were what we were hoping for, which was saying that a joint fire department is beneficial, but if all parties can’t agree to it the county should go through a competitive bid process to make sure that we’re getting the best service and to renegotiate the contract with the city so it’s more fair for everybody."

Asked whether ESC should offer a financial payback of some sort, O’Neill said, “That’s above my paygrade.”

BenitoLink asked Supervisor Medina if he had an opinion on whether the firm should compensate the county. He said he did not have a comment. Supervisor Botelho, though, replied by text message that he was disappointed with the previous drafts and the amount of time that has been taken to complete the report.

"It is absolutely vital to have a clear understanding of the path and commitment that the county and two cities must take to provide long-term adequate and sustainable fire protection services," he wrote. “With the consulting firm recognizing the issues in the report and working to correct the information, I am satisfied their intentions is to provide information that the two city councils and the BOS can make a informed decision. That, in my opinion, is more important than getting bogged down negotiating a rebate and compromising the effort to get the information we need.”

Supervisor Muenzer responded by phone Jan. 25 that it was his understanding that ESC would be coming back with a new report to present to the three agencies at no additional cost. He said he did not see any reason for a refund or other compensation to the county.

John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a freelance photojournalist with additional experience as a copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer, having worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John worked as a scriptwriting consultant, and his own script, "God's Club," was produced and released in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]