Saturday, August 22, 2015
Message to the Joplin Globe: We were not shocked by the audit
Most Joplin residents who heard results of a Joplin city audit on Tuesday said they were shocked and upset by the analysis detailed by State Auditor Nicole Galloway during a forum at Missouri Southern State University.
I talked to at least a dozen people in the Corley Auditorium after the presentation that evening and I did not run into even one person who was shocked. There were individual pieces of information that were surprising, but not particularly shocking because we were anticipating that the audit would reveal gross mismanagement on the part of city officials, and it did.
How could anyone have been shocked when more than 5,000 people signed petitions to request the audit, and none of them were signing it under a mistaken belief that it would reveal that the city's management was superior and free of corruption?
Perhaps Susan Redden was shocked, but even her own story features more interviews with people who were not shocked by the audit's revelations.
It almost makes you wonder if the opening paragraph of Redden's article received some heavy handed editing.
After all, if your only source of news and information over the past four years has been the Joplin Globe, odds are you were shocked by the contents of the audit.
The allegations against Councilman Mike Woolston were detailed in the Loraine Report, the same report the Globe fought to make public and then after winning that battle, buried on a hard-to-find Scribd account. Even the most viewed pages in that account attracted only slight more than 1,000 viewers.
The allegations Loraine leveled at Woolston were backed by sworn testimony from respected Joplin citizens. The councilman was pushing property owners to sell to him. He said they were "stupid" if they did not sell. He refused to say who he was representing. That testimony never made it into the print edition of the Globe, even though Joplin voters had every right to know it as they headed to the polls and Woolston was standing for re-election.
The most damning testimony against Woolston, and it was never printed in the area's newspaper of record either, came from the councilman itself. He showed absolutely no qualms about using his position to benefit himself and his friends and he was particularly pleased with himself as he detailed the steps he took to make sure he was doing things legally. Those very steps appeared to be more indicative of wrongdoing than staying on the right side of the ethical line.
Those who read the Turner Report or read my book Silver Lining in a Funnel Cloud, which went into Woolston's dealings in more detail, were certainly not shocked by hearing something they had been aware of for months.
That is even more the case when it comes to the city's master developer Wallace-Bajjali Development Partners and its front man, the ultra slick David Wallace.Over the last few days we have seen Mayor Michael Seibert, Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce President Rob O'Brian, CART Chairwoman Jane Cage, and others shaking like jello in a windstorm as they try unsuccessfully to refute the audit's impression that not only was Wallace-Bajjali given clear preference when it came to the selection of a master developer, but David Wallace was the one who pushed the city in the direction of even having a master developer.
The mayor says he no longer has the documents that show his reasoning for rating Wallace-Bajjali much higher than other, more experienced, candidates and he cannot recall why he did so. O'Brian acknowledges that Wallace suggested in an e-mail that the city should have a master developer, but O'Brian has deleted that e-mail.
When top officials do not have the documentation for decisions involving the selection of a master developer who will be dealing with hundreds of millions of dollars in projects, we are either dealing with careless individuals or we are dealing with people who did not want these documents to surface.
The audit noted that there were those who warned the CART task force which was charged with rating the master developer candidates that Wallace-Bajjali had a sordid reputation. Seibert has indicated that he checked into Wallace-Bajjali and found no problems. Former City Manager Mark Rohr also said he had looked into Wallace-Bajjali's background, but the only part of that investigation on which the City Council was ever enlightened, was Rohr's echoing of Wallace's assertion that his company's SEC fine came because he had been misled by partners and a couple of bankruptcies in which he had been involved were just "business as usual." The Globe did not look any further into the company's background, only breathlessly repeating what Wallace said.
Rohr memorably said that he would "stake my reputation," on Wallace-Bajjali.
That should have been a dead giveaway that something was deeply wrong.
In March 2012, the Turner Report, relying on easily obtainable public documents detailed the SEC fine and the requirement that Wallace and Costa Bajjali repay the investors in the BizRadio scheme more than $1.2 million, a number that has since ballooned to $1.5 million as the men have not repaid a cent.
If a real check had been made, Joplin officials would have discovered that Wallace and Bajjali had never successfully completed even one project. As I revealed in Silver Lining, even the projects upon which Wallace staked his claim as a master of public-private partnerships, projects in his home town of Sugar Land, Texas, where he was mayor, were well underway before he won the mayor's race, defeating the man who was responsible for the success of those projects.
As the audit noted, CART officials were told that Wallace had a habit of taking credit for work which he was only partially responsible for.
That habit continued after he had been selected as Joplin's master developer. In an October 24, 2012, interview with Judy Stiles of KGCS's Newsmakers program, Wallace claimed credit for "The Sanctuary," a gated community in Houston. Wallace was in on that project at the beginning, but then filed for bankruptcy, shortchanging his partner. Another company bought the project out of bankruptcy and turned it into reality without any involvement from Wallace-Bajjali, but the company listed the project on its website as one of its accomplishments and Wallace spoke proudly of The Sanctuary in his interview with Stiles.
A cursory study of Wallace-Bajjali, if one had been undertaken, would have shown that David Wallace had a lengthy history of bankruptcies, with most of them involving accusations from partners that Wallace had cheated them and made sure that he was the only one who would come out of the deal with money.
That is certainly something on which Mark Rohr could stake his reputation.
It is nearly impossible to reasonably doubt that Rob O'Brian, Jane Cage, Mayor Seibert, Mike Woolston, and others successfully pushed for Wallace-Bajjali to be the master developer. The one thing that the audit does not get into, because that is not something state auditors do, it to assess motive.
While Woolston's actions seem to be in a different category, it seems reasonable that most of the others were wooed by the slick talking Wallace because he told them what they wanted to hear. He took all of their pet projects, most of which had little or nothing to do with tornado recovery, put them together in one gigantic laundry list and called it a plan.
These were "wonderful" ideas, Wallace told them, as he heard everything from the need for a venue to bring in major entertainers to Joplin to the tried-and-rejected idea of moving the post office into the Coca-Cola Building.
Because Wallace was going to push forward with ideas that they had long before the tornado, he had the CART team members eating out of his hands. They ignored their common sense and not only bought into Wallace's idea of having a master developer, but they fixed the process to where his firm was the only one that had a chance to land the bid.
And let's not forget- The City Council was never shown the materials provided by the other five applicants. That should have put a stop to the process. Instead, it led to the most scathing sections of the audit.
Through all of this process, Joplin Globe Publisher Michael Beatty and Editor Carol Stark shed their journalistic responsibilities, donned their cheerleading apparel and shook their pom-pons ferociously, under the mistaken impression that their job was to support the CART/Joplin Progress Committee elite.
The Globe ignored one warning sign after another with Wallace-Bajjali until it closed its doors in the dead of night and skipped town. After that, the newspaper editorialized about how horrible Wallace-Bajjali was and how we would be better off without them. No mention was made of the role that the city elite had played into paving the path for David Wallace to rip off this city. No mention was made of the watchdog role that the Globe had forsaken in exchange for a few table scraps from the people who were trying to remake Joplin in their own warped images.
No, the people of Joplin were not shocked at the results of the audit. We would have been shocked if it had shown anything else. The real story is that businessman David Humphreys, whose warnings about Wallace-Bajjali were ignored by city leaders, began the petition drive, and more than 5,000 people cared enough about the future of Joplin to sign their names to those petitions.
The only thing that would shock the people of Joplin at this point would be if the Joplin Globe finally did the right thing and apologized to them for abdicating its mission of public service and handing over its pages to those manning this community's corrupt power structure.
Help the Turner Report/Inside Joplin to keep the heat on those who want to use their power and influence to control the city government and the school system. Consider a subscription or a contribution. You can use the buttons below, or if you would prefer not to use PayPal or a credit card, you can send a contribution to 2306 E. 8th, Apt. G, Joplin, MO 64801