A city board is asking the Independence City Council for answers to more than a dozen specific questions about why it’s leaning toward a $9.7 million contract to unload and clean up the old Missouri City power plant.
Board members also questioned the qualifications of the council’s preferred company to do the work, pointing to concerns raised about projects it’s done elsewhere. They also want to know why the council directed Independence Power and Light to negotiate a final contract with Environmental Operations, or EOI, even though a second company, Commercial Liability Partners, had bid less than half as much.
“These questions need to be addressed. … The City Council is the only one that can answer them,” said Harold Day, a member of the Public Utilities Advisory Board, which only Friday voted unanimously to forward a set of questions to the council.
The council could approve the contract with EOI as soon as July 10. The council does not have to follow the PUAB’s recommendations, but it is obliged under the City Charter to answer questions forwarded by the PUAB.
Many of those questions – 14 of them taking up three typewritten pages – came from Board Member Garland Land. The board approved that list, and a handful of related ones came up in Friday’s discussion.
Board Chair Jack Looney said the City Council is trying to do what’s best for the city, but he also stressed that it’s unclear that anyone evaluated the EOI and CLP bids against the criteria laid out in the city’s “request for proposal,” the process that brought for initial bids of $8.99 million from EOI and $4.25 million from CLP.
Lacking that evaluation, the board last week voted not to recommend that the city move ahead with the EOI contract.
The longest and most detailed of Land’s questions deals with what he called EOI’s “past questionable dealings and political connections as documented by the St. Louis Post Dispatch.” Those newspaper articles from 2012-14 show EOI in some instances acting as both a government consultant assigned to find the best bidder for big projects and then the winning bidder itself, they show added costs put upon taxpayers, and they mention criticism by former State Auditor Tom Schweich of programs EOI had taken advantage of.
“On the surface, it would appear that this is a moderate- to high-risk bidder,” Looney said.
The Missouri City plant, which used coal, had been used sparingly in recent years and was shut down for good nearly two years ago. IPL said at the time that it would cost $926,000 to decommission the plant and then $32,400 to maintain, as opposed to $17 million to dismantle it.
But Andrew Boatright, IPL deputy director, said the city cannot simply sit on the plant indefinitely.
“This is an asset that we have a requirement to – an obligation to – retire at some point in time,” Boatright said, adding the cost in the future would likely be higher than it is today.
He also said IPL, directed by the council to negotiate with EOI, got a good deal.
“We got the contract exactly as the city desired it, and it’s a solid contract,” he said. EOI would buy the property and clean up, relieving the city of a large potential liability in the future. Once cleaned, the site would be open for other uses.
Board members said it’s possible that the higher bid is also the best bid, but they said they don’t have a way to know that because City Hall didn’t follow through with evaluating the bids by its stated criteria. And they expressed some frustration with the council.
“Why are we here if our voice doesn’t count?” Day asked.
Land criticized the City Council’s process.
Boatright said IPL negotiated a final deal with EOI, but didn’t pursue talks with CPL, at the council’s direction last month.
“But that … implies that a decision was already made before the RFP (request for proposal) was put out,” Land said.
“So, I’m sorry,” Land added. “I have a hard time accepting that explanation.”
Land said in his experience if he had two bidders, he would start by negotiating with the low bidder to get a good final contract.
“Now just the opposite happened,” he said. “The City Council said, go back and negotiate with the high bidder.”
Looney added, “Seems like the process was circumvented here.”
Assistant City Manager Mark Randall assured board members that their questions will be taken back to the council.
“It’s hopeful that we get a response to each and every one of these,” Looney said.