Several Independence city leaders say they do not know who invited a company, which later successfully bid to demolish the old Missouri City Power Plant, to a City Council meeting a year before the council voted on the project.
That question, as well as those about a dine-out meeting between some council members and a local attorney, arose from a television news report Monday about the contract for that project, which the council voted on in July 2017.
Environmental Operations Inc., which is now about halfway through demolition of the shuttered coal-fired plant along the Missouri River, received a $9.765 million contract for the demolition following majority council approval, more than twice the bid of $4.25 million from the other finalist.
Mayor Eileen Weir and Council Members Curt Dougherty, John Perkins, Tom Van Camp and Chris Whiting voted for the contract. Council Members Karen DeLuccie and Scott Roberson voted against the contract – DeLuccie mainly for the higher price and Roberson because the city had what he believed to be far more urgent issues on the horizon.
The Public Utilities Advisory Board, which makes recommendations to the council on utility matters, did not recommend the contract, citing lack of justification for the higher bid. It instead asked the council to consider postponing the vote. The council majority reasoned to the PUAB that the contract represented a chance to rid the city of an “distressed asset without undue delay” and at lower-than-anticipated cost.
While that vote drew much scrutiny at the time, the Environmental Operations presentation to the council in June 2016, as well as a meeting involving some council members, have also come under scrutiny.
Roberson had told he thought Dougherty and Van Camp had invited EOI. Perkins and Van Camp say they did not invite EOI to the June 2016 meeting and do not know who did, as did Weir, and Dougherty made the same statement to KSHB-TV.
Attorney John Carnes confirmed he had met with Dougherty, Perkins and Van Camp at a local restaurant a couple weeks after the presentation and discussed Missouri City. One of Carnes' clients has worked with cities before in financing costly projects, he said. The idea regarding Missouri City went no further.
“I heard (the city) might take on financing with this project,” Carnes said. “I told them what my client might be able to help with it.
“Obviously, the city went in another direction.”
Carnes said he is not associated in any way with Environmental Operations.
Perkins also said the meeting was in regard to possible financing for Missouri City.
“My position was, if you have a client, then we need to get you to the right people,” he said, referring to then-City Manager John Pinch and Brian Watson, who was director of finance at the time.
The city is paying for the demolition with funds from Independence Power & Light. City Manager Zach Walker, who was assistant city manager at the time, said financing had not been considered. The city had recently received a significant settlement from a turbine explosion years earlier, and staff believed that one-time money would be sufficient to help cover this one-time project.
Walker said he could not recall who invited EOI to city hall, but it's not unusual for a council member to request an study session agenda slot for a presentation from an organization. On the agenda, the requesting council member is not always listed.
“Out of deference to council members, we will do that, but most of the stuff is staff-generated,” he said.
In an email to KSHB, then-IPL Deputy Director Andy Boatright said the decision in 2016 to invite EOI was “appalling” and “bad form,” and at a minimum leaves the impression of preference to a certain vendor. He said having a single vendor effectively soliciting its services directly to the council would go against the city's procurement policy.
Boatright was deputy director of IPL at the time in 2016, having joined the city in April. Leon Daggett was the director until he retired in 2017, and Boatright served as acting director for a year until he resigned in June 2018 after nine IPL positions nearly got slashed in an 11th-hour budget amendment by a portion of the council.
Boatright, who could not be reached for further comment, did say in July 2017 before the council vote that the EOI's contract was “solid” and “exactly as the city desired it.”
Walker and Weir said the presentation had more to do with what the city should look for if it solicited proposals to demolish the closed plant. Weir said while she remembers thinking it was a bit unusual for such a presentation, she didn't think it gave the company an advantage.
“We didn't have a bid out at the time,” she said. “It had been talked about, but when we did decide we wanted to seek responses, this was something we had never done before. We had no precedent; it's not like paving a street or building a building.”
“In my mind, they were coming to share their experience, not pitch a proposal.”
When the city decided to start the bidding process in 2017, Walker said city staff had deemed EOI the more qualified of responders over Commercial Liability Partners. Both proposals were qualified, he said. After initial bid figures came in, the council majority directed city staff to negotiate solely with EOI, as it felt more comfortable with the company's experience and fully guaranteed price given the complex project, particularly compared with an engineer's estimate two years prior had pegged the project at $17 million.
At a PUAB meeting before the July 2017 vote, Environmental Operations CEO Stacy Hastie said his firm had completed many risk-assumption projects such as Missouri City, had looked at the plant as a potential project for two years and made numerous visits to the site.
Even if the bidding process could've been handled differently in retrospect, Weir said she remains confident in her vote.
“I did not feel it could be done to our satisfaction for $4 million,” she said. “I felt it was important to make decision the way we wanted done rather than respond to a federal mandate (years later). I was comfortable and felt it was a reasonable price.”