Thursday, June 23, 2016
Joplin city audit followup- The cover up continues
The Globe's coverage of the followup report to last year's state audit of the City of Joplin proves that the cover up of the major problems that the audit revealed not only continues, but appears to be a complete success.
The state auditors make a point of putting what they believe are the most serious problems at the beginning of the audit, and in the Joplin audit, the most serious problems were associated with the master developing firm Wallace Bajjali Development Partners.
The auditors' findings not only served as an indictment of Texas con artist David Wallace, but also of the people who bypassed normal city government channels (and common sense) to hire a master developer, a position that even then did not seem necessary.
The selection of Wallace Bajjali Development Partners
From the audit:
The city did not ensure the selection process for the master developer was handled by persons independent and free of bias; and documentation supporting the selection of the master developer, Wallace Bajjali Development Partners, L.P. (Wallace Bajjali), was insufficient to support the city's decision.
The predevelopment agreement was written to benefit Wallace Bajjali and did not adequately protect the city; and Wallace Bajjali failed to comply with several contractual requirements and obligations. Some pursuit costs were erroneously reimbursed to Wallace Bajjali; many pursuit cost invoices submitted for reimbursement by Wallace Bajjali were inappropriate; and various other concerns related to pursuit costs were identified.
Some of the provisions of the land assemblage agreement were unclear, and some amounts paid to Wallace Bajjali for transfer fees were questionable or excessive. As of January 26, 2015, the city had paid Wallace Bajjali $1 million in pursuit costs and $475,500 in land assemblage fees, and no redevelopment had occurred, more than 2 1/2 years after the effective date of the predevelopment agreement.
The city did not ensure some individuals selected by the Citizens Advisory Recovery Team (CART) Implementation Task Force (ITF) to draft the master developer request for proposal (RFP) requirements and evaluate the proposals received were independent and free of bias.
The city also did not ensure documentation prepared by the members of the CART ITF serving as RFP evaluators was sufficient to support the significant point differences awarded to each respondent. Wallace Bajjali may have benefited from favorable treatment during the RFP and qualifications preparation and evaluation process.
Some of the RFP requirements and terminology may have been favorably written for Wallace Bajjali. In addition, the city did not take sufficient actions to eliminate potential conflicts of interest before awarding the master developer contract. The city did not ensure documentation prepared by the ITF evaluators was sufficient to support the points awarded to each respondent. The ITF did not retain or provide comments or notes explaining the basis for rankings of each respondent, and there were significant point differences between respondents. Also, the dates the evaluator scorecards were prepared by evaluators and dates reference checks were completed were not documented to support the timing of events and decisions made.
The auditors recommended that the city not do this again and city officials said they hadn't. That does not make for much of a follow up, so it has been given short shrift in the media.
What that has done is to sllow the people who broke the rules in an effort to push their own pet projects to escape with almost no criticism. Wallace Bajjali makes a convenient scapegoat (and deserves it), but the audit showed that the pathway to Joplin was cleared for David Wallace by people such as former City Manager Mark Rohr, Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Rob O'Brian, Citizens Advisory Recovery Team (CART) Director Jane Cage and other CART leaders.
The media coverage of Wallace Bajjali since the firm skipped town has focused entirely on Wallace and Costa Bajjali and not on the people who ignored clear warning signs in order to bring in WBDP on terms that were clearly unfavorable to the taxpayers.
It is not necessarily that these people committed any illegal acts, but is it too much to ask for that they be held accountable for their actions?
Instead, they continue to hold themselves up as glowing examples of how to lead a community after a natural disaster, including the recent week-long orgy of self-congratulation during the five-year anniversary observance.
The activities of Mike Woolston
The audit also focused on the actions of former Joplin City Councilman (and tornado mayor) Mike Woolston and his clear connection to Wallace Bajjali and to land sales in the tornado-stricken area.
Some activities involving council member Woolston created actual, or at the very least, an appearance of conflicts of interest.
Council member Woolston signed the real estate sales contracts as the broker on properties purchased by the real estate development company, and commissions were paid to the realtor/broker firm for which he worked. In addition, Woolston was a member of the CART, which held numerous meetings to discuss potential redevelopment areas and presented a report to the Council regarding the proposed redevelopment area.
Council member Woolston did not abstain from voting (or disclose his business relationship with the developer) on an ordinance approving a tax increment financing redevelopment plan involving a developer with whom he co-owned a local realty company.
(Continued below the advertisement)
The story the Joplin Globe has been covering up for five years is told in the pages of Silver Lining in a Funnel Cloud: Greed, Corruption, and the Joplin Tornado, available in paperback and e-book formats from Amazon. It can also be purchased in Joplin at Always Buying Books, Changing Hands Book Shoppe, and The Book Guy.
(Continued from above) The Globe's coverage of these portions of the audit followup showed how the newspaper has fallen in lockstep with the unelected leaders in this town who declare over and over that we must "look forward" and that it does no good to focus on the negative.
According to the Globe, Jasper County Prosecuting Attorney Dean Dankelson, a candidate for circuit court judge, says he has never been presented any evidence to allow him to bring forth any sort of prosecution.
"Nothing has been submitted to our office," Dankelson told the Globe.
I have a hard time believing that Dankelson could read the state audit or the earlier Loraine Report and not suspect that some illegal activity was going on.
Why not pick up the phone or send an e-mail and ask the auditors for any evidence they might have? Of course, some of those who have been pulling the strings may not be thrilled with having a candidate for judge looking into their possible involvement in illegal, or at the least, unethical, activities.
If there had been a murder committed by someone who lives on the "wrong side of the tracks," would Dankelson wait more than a year and still not make the call to find out why he had not received the evidence?
The Globe's coverage, as it did last year when the audit was first released, spent more time steering criticism away from its friends and toward the audit, the same approach Globe Editor Carol Stark used when the Loraine Report was released.
In the five years since the tornado, the Joplin Globe has shown more enthusiasm for protecting the self-proclaimed community elite and less for doing what it is supposed to do, unearth the truth and print it.
If we continue moving forward and not looking back at the mistakes, it is almost a certainty that those mistakes will be repeated.