Friday, August 21, 2015
Chamber President: State auditors got everything about me wrong
Today Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce President Rob O'Brian responded to the state auditor's report, which was released Tuesday evening.
"The time after the tornado was an extraordinary time with extraordinary people doing what they could to help us rebuild," said O'Brian. "And they were doing it all without a playbook.
"Once I read the full report, it was clear a number of items in State Auditor Nicole Galloway's report concerning the Chamber and my work on the Implementation Task Force (ITF) were
incorrect. I would like to make corrections or explanations of those items. "
The report states O'Brian and former Chamber employee Gary Box traveled to Houston
Oct. I, 2011 to meet with Wallace Bajjali. This trip was not to meet with Wallace Bajjali, and O'Brian knows of no such meeting. In fact, O'Brian, Box and their spouses traveled to Houston and immediately drove to Galveston, where they stayed as guests of the Galveston Chamber of Commerce. O'Brian's counterpart at the Galveston Chamber knew they had cancelled a large group vacation in July to concentrate on recovery efforts, and he wanted to give them a brief break. They met with members of the Galveston Chamber and thanked them for their support of funds and personnel.
The report states O'Brian and employees of Wallace Bajjali met in Dallas in December 2011. O'Brian and five other people from the region were at a large trade show event in Dallas. During that time, they had 14 individual meetings with companies at that show and attended the trade show sessions. They hosted the reception prior to the awards ceremony one evening. O'Brian does not recall any meeting with Wallace Bajjali or its representatives at that trade show and does not recall speaking with anyone at that trade show about a master developer for Joplin.
The report states the Chamber president met with Wallace Bajjali numerous times before an official Request for Proposal was issued. Chamber representatives and City leaders met with many developers in the months after the tornado to learn what could be done to rebuild. Most of them either dropped by the office or called to offer assistance. "It would have been a disservice to the community to ignore all those folks out of fear that someone later would claim any meeting caused bias," O'Brian said.
The report states the Chamber president was unfairly biased toward Wallace Bajjali and used a Request for Proposal supplied by Wallace Bajjali. "When the implementation task force, of which I was a member, made a determination to see if there were others besides Wallace Bajjali who were interested in being a master developer, I was asked to develop a Request for Qualifications or Proposal," O'Brian said.
"I have experience writing and reviewing RFPs, and as part of the Chamber's economic development, we've managed the development of Crossroads Park and constructed spec buildings. Once it was known the task force would have a process, Wallace Bajjali did offer a template, but they were not the only one. Others offered full templates or wording specific to a sector such as commercial development. I did not rely on any of them; rather, I focused on what we had as samples, and in addition, did research online. There are many, many examples of master developer RFPs from around the country. In addition, language was already being used by the City and other agencies, mainly about the background and impact of the storm, that I used for consistency. The ITF then reviewed and modified the draft RFP before a version was forwarded to the City for final revision and publication."
The report states that a member of the task force gave O'Brian a document questioning Wallace Bajjali's staying power. As O'Brian recalls, the task force member was going to be absent from the next regularly scheduled ITF meeting. O'Brian conveyed the committee member's concerns at the meeting. Committee members had many pros and cons of all the finalists.
For more information, please call Kirstie Smith, Communications Director, at 417-624-4150.
(Note: The Chamber news release also included e-mails and documentation for the Galveston trip and the Dallas trip.)