Independence city leaders suspicious of contract awarded to high bidder

'There's something going on'

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. -- New details surrounding a multi-million dollar contract, that was awarded to the high bidder, are now raising concerns among city leaders in Independence.

Last year, in a 5-2 vote, the city awarded a nearly $10 million dollar contract to Environmental Operations Inc., to decommission the city's old power plant.

The 41 Action News investigators have learned Independence city council members held a private meeting about the project and the company received an exclusive invite to city hall prior to the bidding process.

Environmental Operations gives presentation one year before winning contract

Records show a representative from Environmental Operations gave a presentation on the project to the city council one year before winning the bid. 

No other companies were invited to present to the city council.

When looking into the timeline leading up to the project, the 41 Action News investigators discovered the information on an agenda from a June 27, 2016 city council study session.

Scott Roberson, a city council member, said the exclusive invite to city hall could have given Environmental Operations an unfair advantage.

“There could have been some conflict of interest because of the pre-existing relationship," Roberson said. "So, that's not good."

While the information about who invited the group is not listed on the agenda, Roberson told the 41 Action News investigators council members Curt Dougherty and Tom Van Camp made the request.

"They wanted to have this company come in because they do environmental cleanup on contaminated sites," Roberson said. 

The 41 Action News investigators requested an interview with Van Camp and Dougherty.

Van Camp did not respond to the request.

Dougherty said he would not do an interview without the questions ahead of time.

However, prior to a city council meeting in September, Dougherty told the 41 Action News investigators he did not invite Environmental Operations to the study session and that he doesn't know who did.

Andy Boatright, a former director for Independence Power & Light, said he was at the meeting when Environmental Operations gave the presentation.

In an email to 41 Action News, Boatright said the decision to invite the company to city hall was, "appalling" and in "bad form."

My personal opinion about inviting Environmental Operations, Inc. representatives to speak directly to City Council during an Independence City Council study session on June 27, 2016 was that it was appalling and bad form. The City of Independence uses a formalized procurement policy and bringing a single vendor in, unsolicited, to effectively solicit their services directly to the governing body of the City of Independence, when not part of a formal Request for Proposal or Qualification process, is in direct violation of the procurement policy. At a minimum, it leaves the impression that Environmental Operations, Inc. was being given preference over any other vendor who may have been similarly qualified to propose.   

Receipt shows meeting between councilmen and John Carnes

While Dougherty said he didn't invite Environmental Operations to city hall, records show the councilman held a meeting about the project three weeks after the study session.

A receipt dated July 18, 2016, shows council members Dougherty, Van Camp and John Perkins dined out at Cafe Verona with John Carnes. 

Carnes is a local attorney who spent time in prison for fraud and bribing a city council member to sway his vote on a project that would benefit one of Carnes' clients.

Dougherty noted on the receipt that the group was meeting to discuss, “Missouri City Power Plant.”

Karen DeLuccie, a city council member, said she has no knowledge Carnes was involved with the Missouri City deal.

"I really don't know why they would be meeting about Missouri City," DeLuccie said.

Roberson said he was also unaware of the meeting.

"I don't ever recall his [Carnes] name being brought up," Roberson said.

Dougherty told the 41 Action News investigators the city needed outside financing for the project.

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

When reached by phone, Carnes reiterated Dougherty's claim that he had a client who was going to help finance the project for the city.

The 41 Action News investigators also spoke to councilman Perkins, who confirmed the meeting he sat in on with Carnes, Dougherty and Van Camp, was in regards to financing.

However, Independence Mayor Eileen Weir, Roberson and DeLuccie all told the 41 Action News investigators the city never planned to finance the project.

"That's ludicrous," DeLuccie said. "I don't believe it for a minute."

According to DeLuccie, city council members are not tasked with seeking financing for city related projects.

"We don't do that," DeLuccie said. "We have people on staff in the finance department who have established relationships with reputable lenders."

Zach Walker, Independence City Manager, told the 41 Action News investigators the city planned to pay for the project with funds from IPL from the very beginning.

DeLuccie said the events leading up to the city's selection of Environmental Operations now makes her suspicious.

"Was this scripted before we hit the gavel and said the meeting's open?" DeLuccie said.

A controversial beginning

The project was controversial from the start.

The $10 million dollars to pay for the project was funded through IPL.

City leaders previously said the money would be replenished throughout the years by rate payers.

DeLuccie and Roberson said the project was an unnecessary expenditure, that the power plant, located in a desolate area of Missouri City, could've be left as is.

“We had already capped the ash ponds, it was approved by the EPA, DNR, State of Missouri," Roberson said. "It was done according to all the regulations."

DeLuccie and Roberson said they started questioning the project when the majority of the city council selected the high bidder.

Garland Land, who serves on the Public Utilities Advisory Board, also criticized the city council’s decision to select the high bidder.

“We could not find the basis for making that decision," Land said. 

The PUAB gives guidance to city council members when it comes to making decisions involving IPL.

An incomplete bidding process

The city began the process for selecting a company for the project by putting out a request for qualifications.

Environmental Operations was deemed the most qualified.

Commercial Liability Partners was also considered qualified.

Later, a request for proposal was issued, which takes into consideration how much money a company will charge to do the work. 

Both Environmental Operations and Commercial Liability Partners responded to the proposal, which shows Commercial Liability Partners offered to do the work for half the price of Environmental Operations.

Still, the majority of the city council opted out of negotiating with Commercial Liability Partners and did not complete the RFP process.

“We did not feel the normal criteria for how they evaluate bids was followed," Land said. "They did not rank the bids."

Land said the PUAB suggested the council postpone the decommissioning of the power plant since there wasn't an urgent need to do it. 

"They then, at the next meeting, went ahead with the contract," Land said. "We have felt that we have been ignored by the city council, often times."

Mayor stands by decision

Independence Mayor Eileen Weir is one of five council members who voted in favor of Environmental Operations.

"If I could reverse time, we didn't do that process as thoroughly as we might have," Mayor Weir said.

While Mayor Weir admits the process could've been handled differently, she stands by her vote, telling the 41 Action News investigators, the low bid was too low.

"Given the complexity of the project, I did not feel confident the project could be completed for the lowest price that was presented to us," Mayor Weir said.

When it comes to Environmental Operations being invited to city hall outside the bidding process, Mayor Weir said, "It was a little odd."

However, Mayor Weir said she doesn't know why the company was invited or who brought the group to city hall.

Still, DeLuccie and Roberson said they have their suspicions about the deal.

"I don't doubt for a minute there's something going on," DeLuccie said. 

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