We learned today that Mayor Greg Ballard hired American Structurepoint as project manager for "ReBuildIndy," the name Hizzoner has given the road, sidewalk, and curb improvement effort to be allegedly undertaken with the dollars from a 30-year, $170 million bond issued against expected increases in payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT), and the $262 million in proceeds (paid for by us all through foregoing a decrease in our rates) from the transfer of Citizens Gas. Do me a favor and read the release for what it says. Then I'll tell you what it doesn't.
First, as chronicled by both Ogden on Politics and Advance Indiana, at least one of the company's executives, Willis Conner, was indicted for bribery when the company operated as American Consulting Engineers years ago. (As a quick aside, don't you love how the corporate form allows you to hide from your misdeeds?) Paul Ogden reports that just two executives - Conner and Marlin Knowles, Jr. - donated a combined $55,000 personally to the Mayor. No, you did not misread that figure. And we don't even know how how many other dollars Ballard got from American Structurepoint personnel.
But that's not why I'm here. And, no, it's not because the Mayor is stealing Governor Daniel's playbook by mortgaging our future revenue at a discount for infrastructure improvements that he'll adorn with a catchy title for a political boost ("Major Moves," anyone?), or that it's pretty arrogant to hire a company to manage a project that hasn't even been approved by the City-County Council or the IURC.
And, no, I'm not here to comment on this paragraph from the Mayor's press release:
If the transfer of the water and wastewater utilities to Citizens Energy Group is approved, the city will invest more than $425 million into this program. This is in addition to $88 million already committed for transportation upgrades.
I'm not here to ask why the Mayor continues to act like this thing is one project when the $170 million bond issue is completely separate, or where this $88 million came from and why, if it's been committed, the money hasn't been spent. If the roads are crumbling and $88 million was just sitting there for upgrades, why wouldn't you, ya know, be building something already?
No, I'm here to talk about this seemingly innocuous part of the release:
After a competitive qualification submittal and review process, DPW selected American Structurepoint’s team of local firms with expertise in engineering, project management, and public outreach for its experience related to Indianapolis infrastructure.
So it's not just an individual bid? It's more like a "team" bid by American Structurepoint and other firms with whom it works?
A synonym for public outreach is "public relations." Wouldn't it be wild if the firm Structurepoint uses for "public outreach" is Hirons and Company, the very firm that employs Greg Ballard's son and is handling the PR for the Cit Gas sale?
Guess who has a reliable source that says it is? (I just texted Molly Deuberry, the Mayor's communications director for confirmation and her explanation of the bidding process. I'll update when I hear back from her).
If this is true, wouldn't that mean that the company for which the Mayor's son works is receiving your tax dollars to lobby for passage of a project that will result in them getting more of your tax dollars to describe that same project? Talk about getting dollars coming and going! Talk about your tax dollars going to promote Greg Ballard's re-election (just like I said, by the way).
As I aluded to above, one thing that is not clear from the press release is how the contract was bid, as it reads like the best "team" was selected. Specifically, I wonder whether American will pay the "team" members out of its overall contract? If so, can you imagine how in demand Hirons will be for similar "team" projects?
Having Hirons would be like having Paul Page as your lawyer on a criminal defense matter in Marion County. You know you'll get a special look.
UPDATED: A colleague who is pretty familiar with government procurement states that any "competitive" process would have treated project management as "professional services" which are never determined by bid price. In other words, the discretion to pick whoever responds to the Mayor's RFP (Request for Proposal) is as broad as his ability to weather the public criticism for whom he picks. Fifty-five thousand dollars ($55,000) would sure make me thick-skinned? Also at Structurepoint? Greg Henneke, Steve Goldsmith's Director of Public Works.
[I am still waiting to hear from Communications Director Deuberry. I was going to praise the fact she replied to my text messages at 10:00 p.m. last night. That's admirable accessibility and a strong work ethic. But then I never heard back today, so I have to yank the kudos. Sorry!].