By Mike Genet
Independence Mayor Eileen Weir says she has not been contacted by the FBI regarding any investigation into city utility projects and has been told investigators don't plan to talk with her.
Weir told The Examiner last week that “Obviously, there is an investigation,” but would not comment on “who has or has not been contacted.” She also denied any connection between her decisions on those projects in 2017 and any contributions her campaign received around that time.
Monday, the mayor confirmed she had not been contacted by federal investigators. Rather, she said she contacted them and asked if the parties needed to talk as part of an investigation. Weir said they told her no.
“I was just tired of waiting,” Weir said. “I decided I'm just going to reach out and ask, 'If you want to talk with me, let's just talk.'”
Two Independence City Council members, Karen DeLuccie and Scott Roberson, confirmed last month they had recently talked with the FBI about a July 2017 contract to demolish the shuttered Missouri City power plant and the city's purchase of the former Rockwood Golf Club a few months later for a solar farm.
DeLuccie and Roberson had been the lone no votes with the Missouri City contract, citing lack of necessity, and DeLuccie was opposed to the Rockwood purchase. She said she knew the FBI had talked to at least one other council member, a city employee and a private citizen, though she would not name them.
Weir has been questioned by some about campaign contributions in October 2017 – specifically, $2,600 from four Missouri political action committees with some connection to city lobbyist Steven Tilley. A couple of the PACs had earlier received thousands of dollars from Springfield firm Gardner Capital, which has partnered with Lee's Summit firm MC Power in building the city's community solar farm.
The contributions came just a few days before the council approved the Rockwood property purchase for the solar farm. That purchase for $985,000 became final in November, though the city purchased from an investment firm that obtained the land for $550,000 just a few months earlier. Council Member Tom Van Camp, who had been active in negotiations, claimed the city couldn't get any lower than $650,000 in its discussions with the original owner.
Tilley's firm, Strategic Capitol Consulting, counts the Independence Power & Light and Gardner Capital among its many clients. The city hired Tilley, a former Missouri speaker of the House, to lobby for Power & Light in 2016, and he's lobbied for Gardner Capital since 2013.
The council had authorized in June 2017 to work with MC Power on expanding the solar farm after the initial installment on Bundschu Road quickly sold out. MC Power paid a half-million dollar up front lease as part of the Rockwood deal.
Weir said the timing happened to be just that, as the city had been discussing solar farm expansion for several months. She said more than once last week she's never pledged a vote in exchange for a contribution, adding at one point she's declined contributions from entities with which the city is negotiating.
“I use my discretion. When I receive contributions, I report them,” she said last week. “I certainly have never taken any contribution in the expectation that it would result in a vote.
“The solar farm decision had been made, we just needed to figure out where. We had a waiting list” of solar customers.
Weir acknowledged while the FBI doesn't plan to talk with her, she would be willing to talk if that changed.
“Never is a long time,” she said.