A contract for more than $565,000 to remodel and upgrade Independence Power & Light's primary control center will go on the backburner for a little while.
The Independence City Council voted unanimously Monday to send the contract for The Wilson Group back to staff, after the council voted last week to push back a scheduled presentation on near-future Power & Light issues and decisions until the Public Utilities Advisory Board heard it first.
There's no apparent issue with the proposed contractor, though that company's former owner remains in federal custody serving out his sentence for a “rent-a-vet” scheme that defrauded the federal government out of more than $13 million. Rather, City Manager Zach Walker asked the council to remand the contract, as staff had planned to have the contract on the agenda after the IPL presentation.
Among other things, the report will discuss the utility's combustion turbines, employee transition and future use of the power plant building.
The Wilson Group is based in Greenwood. Its former owner, Jeffrey Wilson, pleaded guilty in January 2018 to government fraud, admitting that he used had a military veteran listed as the active manager the shadow firm “Patriot Company,” which received several contracts from the federal government from 2005-14 based on its apparent veteran ownership. He was sentenced in August 2018 to 20 months in federal prison without parole.
Wilson's son Jordan now owns the company and is listed as president – a transfer arrangement that took place shortly before Wilson was indicted in January 2017. Tim Gramling, Independence's director of public works, said The Wilson Group had to get recertified as a contractor in good standing before Independence did business with them.
“We asked around and made sure they were OK, did our due diligence,” Gramling said. “What we were told is their past issues didn't reflect the current operations.”
The proposed project deals with the IPL's primary control center, which occupies part of the building at 21500 E. Truman Road, next to the Blue Valley Power Plant. The utility's offices moved a couple years ago from that building to the Utilities Center at 23rd Street and R.D. Mize Road.
The control center hasn't been updated since 1995, the city says, has outdated technology and lighting/electrical systems and is ill-designed to handle future operations.
Citizen Lowell Krofft had several questions regarding the contract and its timing. For one, the city still waits for final approval from the Southwest Power Pool for a new power capacity contract that allows the city to close the power plant. Also, the city will need to decide what to do with the combustion turbines, and what to do with the power plant building presuming it closes.
Given all those questions, he said, not to mention the recent legal issue related to The Wilson Group, would such a renovation project be necessary if the control center could go somewhere else?
The Wilson Group had been the low bidder in the summer of 2018 when the project first went out for consideration and city staff had a proposed project budget of $1.1 million. However, a budget crunch shelved that project. Another crunch for the 2019-20 fiscal year put the project budget nearly $683,000, so staff worked with the contracted engineer to redesign the project and then reworked the price with The Wilson Group.