Wednesday, February 28, 2018
The man who brought us Wallace Bajjali wants to take his leadership to Jefferson City
O'Brian told the Joplin Globe he was forming an exploratory committee, making it sound as if he is mulling a run for president rather than the state legislature.
If he does enter the race, he will join Rep. Bill White, R-Joplin and Green Party candidate Conon Gillis of Joplin.
And O'Brian will have an immediate advantage since neither White nor Gillis can claim to have brought a major master developer firm like Wallace Bajjali to Joplin.
Imagine what he could bring to Jefferson City.
O'Brian's role in the City of Joplin's recovery from the May 22, 2011 tornado was featured in my 2015 book Silver Lining in a Funnel Cloud: Greed, Corruption and the Joplin Tornado.
The state audit of the City of Joplin came out a few weeks after the book was published and backed everything that had been written in it, offering plenty of detail as to O'Brian's involvement in the hiring of Wallace Bajjali, including his deletion of a key e-mail that would have shown that Wallace Bajjali provided a template for the hiring of a master developer that only Wallace Bajjali could meet.
The following passages are taken verbatim from the state audit:
Wallace Bajjali may have benefited from favorable treatment during the RFP and qualifications preparation and evaluation process because the RFP preparer and two evaluators had been meeting with David Wallace or employees of Wallace Bajjali before the RFP was drafted and proposals solicited.
In addition, the city did not take sufficient actions to eliminate potential conflicts of interest before awarding the master developer contract. The Joplin Chamber of Commerce President Rob O'Brian (a member of the ITF) drafted the RFP and qualifications for the master developer during December 2011.
Chamber invoices indicate Chamber of Commerce President O'Brian and another chamber employee, Gary Box, traveled to Houston, Texas, on October 1, 2011, to meet with representatives of Wallace Bajjali. They also met with David Wallace in Joplin on October 13, 2011.
Box later evaluated the potential master developer proposals and was subsequently hired by Wallace Bajjali in August 2012. Additionally, an employee of Wallace Bajjali submitted a parking invoice from Dallas, Texas, dated December 5, 2011, which indicated he was meeting with city of Joplin representatives.
Chamber credit card invoices indicated Chamber of Commerce President O'Brian was also in Dallas, Texas, on December 5, 2011. Additionally, in sworn testimony Chamber of Commerce President O'Brian indicated he first met with Wallace in August 2011, and met with him several other times during the fall of 2011.
Also in sworn testimony CART Chairperson Jane Cage indicated she had met Wallace a few months after the tornado and at other times during the fall of 2011. Chairperson Cage was also a member of the CART ITF and an evaluator. Chairperson Cage developed the evaluation scorecard, evaluated the master developer respondents and completed a scorecard, and compiled the totals of the scorecards.
It is questionable why the Chamber President, CART Chairperson, and another chamber employee had multiple meetings with a potential master developer company or its partners prior to drafting and evaluating the RFPs.
In sworn testimony Chamber of Commerce President O'Brian indicated Wallace suggested the "master developer concept" for redevelopment of the city, and a Wallace Bajjali employee emailed him a template of a RFP at Wallace's request. However, Chamber of Commerce President O'Brian indicated he deleted the email.
These prior relationships with Wallace Bajjali may have impaired the RFP preparer and the evaluators' ability to act impartially when preparing and evaluating the RFPs. Some of the RFP requirements and terminology may have been favorably written for Wallace Bajjali. The RFP included terminology regarding pursuit costs as a form of compensation, which was not used in proposals submitted by the 5 other RFP respondents. The ability to estimate these types of costs was also questioned by one of the respondents. In addition, some of the RFP requirements likely would have required the respondents more than a month to prepare and were questioned by other respondents.
The audit noted that three of the seven members of the committee that evaluated the master developer proposals gave Wallace Bajjali much higher scores than the others. One of those was Chamber of Commerce employee Gary Box, who was later hired by Wallace Bajjali.
O'Brian's role was also spelled out in 2012 CART minutes obtained by the Turner Report.
The CART records showed O'Brian pushed the hiring of Wallace Bajjali, noting the company's record in helping the Waco, Texas community recover from a tornado, even though the Waco tornado was in 1953 and Wallace Bajjali's projects in that community did not begin until more than a half century later (and were never completed).
The state audit also questioned the City of Joplin's providing large financial subsidies to the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce when there was no indication the city was receiving anywhere near that much in return for its investment.
For more information about Rob O'Brian, Mark Rohr, C. J. Huff, Mike Woolston and other prominent Joplin residents and how they responded during and after the May 22, 2011 Joplin Tornado, check out my book Silver Lining in a Funnel Cloud; Greed, Corruption and the Joplin Tornado, available in paperback and e-book formats at the Amazon links below or at Always Buying Books, Changing Hands Book Shoppe and The Book Guy in Joplin and Pat's Books in Carthage.