Gateway Sun

Several top executives from Zenner USA attended the November 17, 2016 meeting of the Board of Supervisors of the Gateway Services Community Development District.

For those who don’t know, Zenner is the company that manufactures the water meters and electronics that were installed throughout Gateway as part of the Water Meter Replacement Project, which began in 2014.

The list of executives from Zenner making the trip to Southwest Florida included President Rich Sanders, VP of Manufacturing Ron Gallon, National Service Manager Anthony Graham, as well as Mark Green – who is the Project Manager for Zenner’s contract with Gateway, and Regional Sales Manager Dan Devane.

In speaking about the team that Zenner brought to Gateway, Sanders told the board, “They’re not just anybody. What I wanted to do was send some of my best people.”

Or as one impressed Supervisor put it to me: “They brought the house.”

This strong response from Zenner was due to complaints from the GSCDD and specifically Supervisor Ed Tinkle that there were over 1,200 documented issues with the water meter project. Tinkle was not a Supervisor at the time he shared his concerns, but he became one on November 22 – after winning Seat 3 in the November 8 election.

If the list of 1,200 problems is accurate then it would reflect a nearly 1 in 5 error rate since there were approximately 6,500 meters installed, far exceeding any expectations for the number of problems that would occur in a project of this size.

But Sanders told the board that Zenner’s product failure rates were statistically normal, and that other factors including GSCDD staff turn-over, vandalism, poor installation work and honest mistakes all contributed to the majority of Gateway’s water meter issues.

“What caused the failures comes back to the responsibility or what – it isn’t the equipment that was bad is what I’m about to say,” said Sanders.

Sanders then went through a presentation of various problems his team found, providing photographic evidence of many of the issues he cited.

Sanders explained to the board that his people visited 452 sites in Gateway while they were here in November, and then he broke down the list as such: 397 were simple transmission errors, 35 bad ETRUs, 13 dead MIUs, 3 damaged MIU’s, 2 wrong meter numbers, 1 ETRU not attached to the register, 1 MIU not programmed properly and 2 meters installed in reverse.

(While that list adds up to 454, it is possible that one or two meters experienced multiple issues.)

Further proving that Zenner plans to stand behind the Gateway project, Sanders told the board that although it is Zenner’s position that the water meter project’s problems lie elsewhere, “We’re fixing everything at no cost to the community.”

One thing Sanders brought up several times is that the GSCDD has gone through tremendous turn-over from the beginning of the water meter project. Sanders and Green both noted that full training was provided to the initial three people in charge of the water utility in Gateway – but that all three of them are now gone.

This is accurate. And not only are the former Utility Manager, Billing Manager and Operations Manager all gone… but so is the former District Manager, making it four key people who have departed since the beginning of the project, not just the three that Sanders mentioned.

But that’s the past.

Looking forward, Green (the Gateway installation Project Manager) stated that he is working directly with Operations Manager April White and others within the district to get them fully trained, and just as importantly to establish procedures to follow when problems are identified.

Sanders stated that the GSCDD can expect 1.0 to 1.5% failure rate per year over the 20-year life of the project. None of the Supervisors or district staff present at the meeting objected to that figure.

That still leaves the 1,200 initial failures – which was somehow upgraded to 1,400 at the November 17 meeting.

Several weeks ago the Gateway Sun began working with a person who has professional investigation skills and we found direct links between Zenner and two other companies named Datamatic and Axiometric, both of which Zenner ended up acquiring technology assets from.

Datamatic in particular was blasted by communities all over the United States for problems caused by their poor MIU technology. But we (our investigation team) also discovered filings with the Security and Exchange Commission that revealed that Datamatic and Axiometric developed systems together which packaged their technology and then was sold to various vendors, including Zenner.

We became concerned when we discovered FCC filings showing that Zenner’s Stealth Reader MIU was born from Axiometric’s MIU technology, especially given that Axiometric had a technology partnership with Datamatic – and it was Datamatic’s MIU, called the Firefly, that was the cause of so many problems around the country.

Connecting the dots as simply as I can: our investigation team was worried that potentially flawed technology acquired by Zenner had made its way in to the systems sold to Gateway.

This concern has not been proven in any way.

We attempted to begin our own investigation by examining the components that made up a Firefly MIU (by Datamatic) and a Stealth Reader MIU (by Zenner), but the GSCDD board rejected our request to purchase a Stealth Reader from the district at cost.

The point seems moot now with Zenner doubling down on its commitment to Gateway.

But what is owed to both Zenner and the residents of Gateway is for the GSCDD staff to compile a list of the 1,200 (or 1,400) errors that they have reported to the public and break it down in to how many errors were equipment-based versus created by installation errors.

GSCDD Utilities Manager Chris Shoemaker stated at the November 17 meeting that he felt a 3% error rate was to be expected. So if there were less than 200 problems with the meters, MIUs, ETRUs or other pieces of equipment supplied by Zenner then that would be within tolerance, since (again) approximately 6,500 meters were installed throughout Gateway.

Zenner’s list of problems discovered covers only their November visit, but the bulk of the GSCDD problems reported were from late 2015 and most of 2016, and were presumably already fixed by the time Zenner arrived.

We will be reaching out to various Supervisors to request that they have district staff compile the GSCDD list and release the information to the public.

Toward the end of the meeting Sanders told the Board of Supervisors and the Gateway community, “This system is a 20-year relationship with us.”

Based on the strong showing by Zenner at the November 17 meeting, the relationship seems to be in a better place right now.

So much so that perhaps the next time Zenner executives are in Gateway to attend a district meeting, the board will extend them the courtesy of speaking at the beginning of the meeting (instead of making them sit for 3 hours) as they’ve done with all other distinguished guests in the past.

About Jeff Kuntz

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Editor of the Gateway Sun and owner of restaurant delivery service Florida Food Runner.

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