Independence City Council members hold backdoor meetings with man convicted of bribery

Meetings involve controversial, high dollar deals

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Independence city leaders have been holding backdoor meetings with a man who went to prison for bribing a city councilman.

The meetings involved controversial projects that cost the city millions of dollars.  

John Carnes is a local attorney and a former Jackson County legislator who several years ago served as an Independence City Council member.

In 1989, Carnes was sent to prison for bribing a city councilman to vote in favor of a contract that would benefit a client of his.

Records obtained by the 41 Action News investigators show some members of the Independence City Council met with Carnes about a recent contract that was heavily scrutinized by members the community and even city leaders.

A source close to another controversial project told the 41 Action News investigators Carnes was also involved in that deal. 

Missouri City deal

In 2017, majority of the Independence City Council awarded a $9.7 million contract to Environmental Operations Inc. to buy, demolish and remediate the city’s old power plant.

Zach Walker, Independence City Manager, said it’s one of the largest contracts ever issued to a single company in the city’s history.

The deal raised doubts from the very beginning, according to Scott Roberson, an Independence City Council member.

“I honestly do not know why that decision was made. I tried to stop it,” Roberson said. “There was no reason for us to spend any money, in my opinion.”

The old power plant, located in a desolate area of Missouri City, was deemed safe by the EPA and the ash ponds had already been capped.

“EPA was not requiring us to do anything, so my position was, why spend $10 million," Roberson said.

Roberson and Karen DeLuccie are the only members of the city council who voted against removing the power plant from the city’s list of responsibilities.

Mayor Eileen Weir, council members Curt Dougherty, Tom Van Camp, Chris Whiting and John Perkins all voted in favor of getting rid of the old power plant. 

However, the choice to move forward with the project isn’t the only concern Roberson and DeLuccie have with the deal.

City records show the city council could have opted to hire another company to do the work for half the price of Environmental Operations. 

“We’re talking about $5 million,” DeLuccie said.

Records show the lower bidder, Commercial Liability Partners, was deemed qualified for the job by city staff.

Still, for reasons unknown to DeLuccie and Roberson, the rest of the City Council directed staff to strictly negotiate with Environmental Operations. 

“It raises questions in my mind,” DeLuccie said.

41 Action News investigators obtained records that show Environmental Operations was invited to give a presentation before the City Council on the project.

The presentation took place in June, 2016, one year before Environmental Operations won the bid.

No other companies were invited to present.

“Was this scripted before we hit the gavel and said the meeting is open?” DeLuccie questioned.

Mayor Eileen Weir said she voted for Environmental Operations, the high bidder, because the company had the most experience.

"We have one proposal that's the lowest and one proposal that's the best," Mayor Weir said. "Given the complexity of the project, I did not feel confident that the project could be completed for the lowest price that was presented to us."

Roberson disagrees with Mayor Weir.

According to Roberson, Environmental Operations was not the most qualified.

"They didn't have the most experience for demolishing a power plant," Roberson said. "They'd [Environmental Operations] demolished a lot of other things but not a power plant."

The low bidder, Commercial Liability Partners, does have experience with decommissioning power plants, according to its website.

"Was this scripted before we hit the gavel?"

While digging through city records, the 41 Action News investigators found a dinner receipt that shows within days of Environmental Operations meeting exclusively with the City Council, council members Curt Dougherty, Tom Van Camp and John Perkins met with John Carnes about the project.

The receipt, submitted by Dougherty, stated the meeting was about Missouri City, though it did not give specifics as to what the conversation was about.

In September, Dougherty told the 41 Action News investigators the city needed financing for the project.

“He [John Carnes] had a client that was going to finance that,” Dougherty said.

Carnes also told the 41 Action News investigators he had a client who was going to help finance the project.

However, DeLuccie said the claim by Dougherty and Carnes is bogus.

“I don’t believe that for a minute,” DeLuccie said. “That’s ludicrous.”

Roberson agreed.

“I don’t think that’s realistic,” Roberson said.

Independence City Manager Zach Walker said the city planned to fund the project with money from Independence Power and Light, the city owned utility, from the very beginning.

Walker told the 41 Action News investigators outside financing was never considered for the project.

When looking through city records, the 41 Action News investigators discovered Dougherty met with someone else about the Missouri City project. 

Two days after meeting with Carnes, Dougherty met with Joe Campbell, according to another receipt.

Campbell recently sold the Rockwood Golf Course to the city for nearly $1 million.

No one around City Hall could confirm to 41 Action News that they had any knowledge Campbell was involved in the Missouri City project.

However, Dougherty said he met with Campbell for the same reason he met with Carnes two days earlier.

“I think he [Campbell] was wanting to finance that,” Dougherty said. “We were going to finance that but we decided to finance that ourselves.”

DeLuccie said it's not the responsibility of the city council to find financing and again dismissed Dougherty's claim. 

“Assume that’s true. Why are we meeting with Joe Campbell to finance Missouri City?” DeLuccie said. “We don’t do that. We have people on staff in the finance department who have established relationships with reputable lenders.”

Rockwood Golf Course

In May, Beverly Harvey contacted 41 Action News after the city purchased the golf course she lived on, and turned it into a solar farm.

“I have never heard of a solar farm being put right in the city,” Harvey said. “Especially with us citizens of Independence not even having the opportunity to vote on it or a say.”

Harvey said the project moved quickly before anyone in the neighborhood could take their concerns to the city council.

Tom Van Camp, councilman for District 4, led the way on the project.

In July, Van Camp told the 41 Action News investigators the city rushed the purchase of the Rockwood property due to concerns that Section 8 housing would be put there.

“You have to react to what’s happening and we had some push to get this done of a negative matter,” Van Camp said. 

DeLuccie said unwanted housing was a concern among city leaders and the citizens of Independence for years.

“I know that a fear of many in the city has been we don’t want to have high-density residential in that 91 acres,” DeLuccie said. 

Ron Bruch owned the Rockwood property for several years.

In 2016, Bruch said Van Camp arranged a meeting with him to discuss the city’s interest in purchasing the land.

However, when he got to the meeting, Bruch said Carnes was there.

“It was Tom Van Camp and John Carnes,” Bruch said. “[They] wanted to know what the sale price was.”

While the property wasn't for sale at the time, Bruch said he wanted to get rid of it, and made an offer to the city.

Bruch said he also met with Carnes on one other occasion to discuss selling the property.

DeLuccie, Roberson, Mayor Weir and City Manager Zach Walker all said they were not aware Carnes was involved in discussions about purchasing the property. 

John Pinch was the city manager at the time.

He couldn't be reached for comment. 

Carnes wouldn't agree to an interview with 41 Action News.

However, by phone, Carnes said he met with Bruch because he wanted the land at Rockwood to be preserved.

Carnes said he hoped the city would buy the property and turn it into a park. 

Carnes denied having any other involvement in the deal. 

After meeting with Carnes, Bruch said he met with Pinch to discuss selling the land to the city.

However, according to Bruch, Pinch informed him the city couldn't afford to buy the property at the time.

The city never purchased the land from Bruch.

But, a few months later, Bruch got a phone call from Joe Campbell, who he said expressed interest in purchasing the land.

"He told me he wanted to put some single family housing on it," Bruch said. 

Carnes said he did speak with Campbell prior to the phone call Campbell made to Bruch.

Carnes told 41 Action News Campbell wanted to enlist his legal services for the real estate transaction.

However, Carnes said he declined because he didn't agree with putting in section 8 housing.

A certificate of value shows Campbell purchased the Rockwood land from Bruch for $550,000 in September, 2017.

Just two months later, records show Campbell made a $435,000 profit by selling the property to the city for $985,000.

It's not clear why the city didn't buy from Bruch in the first place.

DeLuccie and Walker said they thought the reason the city didn't buy from Bruch was because Bruch wouldn't sell the land for less than $1 million.

However, Bruch said the city never attempted to negotiate with him.

Roberson and DeLuccie said they weren’t aware that Carnes and Campbell were both connected to the Rockwood and Missouri City projects.

However, DeLuccie said she’s concerned about the timeline of events and the meetings that took place behind closed doors. 

“I don’t doubt for a minute there’s something going on,” DeLuccie said.

Medical Center of Independence

Carnes and Campbell's names also turn up on a deal from several years earlier. 

In 2013, the City of Independence entered into a contract to purchase the old Medical Center of Independence, which is now part of the new IPL building.

Records show Carnes represented the seller who agreed to sell the property to the city for $1.5 million.

At some point, and for reasons that are unknown, Campbell took over the contract for the seller and completed the deal with the city for $2 million.

In a phone call to Campbell he told the 41 Action News investigators he did not want to answer any questions because of, “Everything that’s going on in Independence right now.”

Campbell did not specify what he meant by the comment and hung up the phone.

Carnes did not return repeated calls from the 41 Action News investigators to discuss his connections to all three deals.

On Wednesday, Carnes issued the following statement in response to the story:

The negative comments of my critics are fiction and fantasy.  However, these comments directed toward me on your newscast concern me because it will increase a demand for my legal services at a time that I am attempting to retire.  It should be noted that vendettas, feuds and grudges are recreational activities in Independence.

DeLuccie said she doesn't know why Carnes and Campbell's names keep popping up.

 “I really don’t know," DeLuccie said. "They’re all high dollar items, they all deal with IPL.”

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