Lepard Sues EPB On Alleged Overcharges To City; Says Lawsuit Filed To Aid City In Recovering Money

Friday, September 5, 2014

Chattanooga area businessman Don Lepard has filed a whistle blower lawsuit "on behalf of the city of Chattanooga and the city's taxpayers" against EPB. The lawsuit was filed on July 3 in the Circuit Court of Hamilton County. The lawsuit has been "under seal" since July 3, and the confidentiality seal was lifted Friday by the court.

The lawsuit claims the EPB overcharged the city of Chattanooga for energy charges on its monthly billing for the municipal lighting system due to the bills reflecting energy charges for lights that did not exist for at least 20 years. The overcharges are said to be $5.9 million for a 20-year period. The filing also states that due to the "false claims" made by the EPB, "plaintiffs are entitled to a civil penalty of not less than $2,500 and not more than $10,000 for each false claim. Over a period of 20 years, defendant has presented false claims in monthly billings, representing at least 240 false claims."

The lawsuit could result in damages of more than $10 million, Mr. Lepard, who heads Global Green Lighting, said.

Harold DePriest, president and CEO of EPB, said "It's notable that the City of Chattanooga declined to participate in Don Lepard's lawsuit. Like the city, EPB remains committed to working together in good faith to find a fair solution for both citizens and our customers. Because this involves pending litigation, we can't comment on Lepard's claims."

Global Green Lighting officials said, "As is its right, the city of Chattanooga has declined to lead in prosecuting the case against the utility but pledged its support to Lepard and his legal team. Mr. Lepard filed the suit personally and not on behalf of his company."

City officials denied they have pledged support for the suit.

"The lawsuit is a simple, straight-forward way for citizens to hold public entities accountable for wasted tax dollars," said Mr. Lepard. "I simply want the issue of street light billing to be vetted once and for all by an independent court. I strongly believe the city and its taxpayers will benefit financially from a judge and jury gathering and hearing all the evidence."

A statement from Global Green Lighting says, "The discovery of the overcharges was made by Mr. Lepard when his company, Global Green Lighting, deployed for the first time ever a new lighting system with a wireless monitoring and control system containing a utility-grade residential meter for the city of Chattanooga. In order to measure the energy savings, it was necessary to create a detailed profile of the lights that came down off the poles as the new LED lights were installed.

"The misclassification discrepancy was discovered when Mr. Lepard attempted to reconcile the city's monthly billing to the lights that had actually been removed from the poles and benchmarked into a spreadsheet. Mr. Lepard was taking inventory of each light that was taken down. In the course of that inventory, Mr. Lepard discovered the information that led to the allegations of overcharging by EPB. In an effort to measure the performance of the new lighting technology, Mr. Lepard found that the EPB was billing the city for more costly lights while less costly lights were actually on the poles.
 
"For example, Mr. Lepard found that the EPB had billed the city for more than 6,000 mercury vapor lights each month for years although there is no documentation to suggest these antiquated, more expensive lights even exist in the municipal lighting system.
 

"Mr. Lepard made the EPB and the city aware of the overcharges. After months of trying to work with the EPB and the city to unravel the confusion that was effecting the city's ability to properly evaluate the performance of the new GGL lighting and control system, Mr. Lepard gladly accepted the offer made by the city council to have the Office of Internal Audit (OIA) evaluate the projected future operating costs of the existing lighting infrastructure owned by the EPB and the new lighting system that the city would own and pay GGL separately to maintain and operate as a third party vender.

"It was the OIA's April 25,·report that made public for the first time the concerns of overcharges. In September 2013, Mr. Lepard shared his findings with the EPB and the city. The EPB began reclassifying the lights on its billing in 2013 in significant numbers. There is no indication that the city was made aware at that time of EPB's reclassifying the lights on the city's bill.

"Since April, the EPB has released two audit reports that do not deny the overcharges but instead offer three different theories on how the utility underbilled the city in asserting that it is entitled to an offset of the energy overcharges. Mr. Lepard says none of the theories has merit."

"Even if the EPB's claimed underbillings are factually accurate, which is in dispute, we have not been able to identify a proper basis for the EPB to go back and retroactively amend the bills," said Mr. Lepard.

Click here to read the overview prepared by Mr. Lepard.

Click here to read the response from City Attorney Wade Hinton.



Chattanooga Police Investigate 11 Robberies, 32 Burglaries July 21-27

Chattanooga Police investigated 11 robberies and 32 burglaries, from July 32-27. Robberies were at: 4518 HIXSON PIKE. 7/21/15 8:53 120 120 ROBBERY 3 37343- 1001 Broad ST 7/21/15 21:29 120 120 ROBBERY 3 37402 906 WAUHATCHIE PK. 7/22/15 4:15 120 120 ROBBERY 3 37419- 4810 Rossville Blvd. 7/22/15 1:08 120 120 ROBBERY 3 37407- 6398 LEE HWY, CHATTANOOGA (HIGHWAY 153/CUSTOMER ... (click for more)

Upcoming City Council Agenda For Tuesday

Here is upcoming City Council agenda for Tuesday: I. Call to Order. II. Pledge of Allegiance/Invocation (Vice Chairman Freeman). III. Minute Approval. IV. Special Presentation. “City of Akron, Ohio – Resolution No. 233-2015” By Chairwoman Carol Berz V. Ordinances – Final Reading: (None) VI. Ordinances – First Reading: (None) VII. Resolutions: FIRE ... (click for more)

Chattanooga's Memorial Day - And Response

It is recorded in the Fourth Chapter of the Book of Joshua, that after the nation had crossed the River Jordan, Joshua would receive a divine commandment to choose 12 men from among the people and tell them to take 12 stones from the middle of the river.  Each man placed a stone on their shoulder which represented one of the tribes of Israel, and served as a memorial ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: They Still Love The ‘Lickers’

When Congressman Ted Yoho (R-Fl.) introduced the 2015 version of the “Prevent All Soring Tactics” in Congress this week, he already had a bipartisan crowd of 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats as co-sponsors. That’s hardly amazing. Today there are over 280 organizations, associations, veterinary and animal advocates who vehemently support the legislation, because it is well documented, ... (click for more)

Justin Brown Signs With Hiwassee College

Only weeks after signing Red Bank's Jalen Moore to a scholarship, Hiwassee head baseball coach Shane Gardner was back in Chattanooga on Wednesday evening. This time he was in the Scenic City looking for a player he described as "a spark plug, someone who could boost our team and contribute right away." He believes he's found that young man in former Chattanooga School for the ... (click for more)

Robert Powderly Still Active After All Of These Years

It didn’t take long for Robert Powderly to get fully involved in the running boom back in the late 70s. Millions of Americans joined the parade back in those days where running was their main source of physical fitness and Powderly was a big part of it. Powderly is now 68 and retired from U.S. Pipe where he worked in the accounting department.   He’s also had a couple ... (click for more)