By Cynthia Ward
On the Consent Calendar, Item 11 appears to be an example of crony capitalism at its finest, with over 9 1/2 million dollars in public funds going to the social network of some Council members and the Public Works Director.
appears to be leapfrogging special friends at Hill International Inc. into the number one slot for the new streetcar system crammed through the meat grinder of public policy during the last Council meeting. The ink has barely dried on that decision, and already Natalie Meeks has selected the favorable contractor to move forward on the studies. Despite some findings of Hill having some potential financial troubles, they were chosen over other companies that applied, including Parsons Brinkerhoff, a company sucking through enough High Speed Rail money to never file another negative balance sheet again in their lives. Hill assures us that their troubles are merely temporary, linked to the trouble in Libya that has halted work. I’ve got news for Hill, the trouble in Libya is unlikely to be temporary.
But when we are promoting Anaheim’s new cottage industry of special interest at its best, why let facts get in the way?
Hill International is a big company. So despite the close personal friendships between Natalie Meeks, Kris Murray, and Hill employees Steve Chavez Lodge and his new wife, I am sure it is merely a coincidence they are being chosen. In a company that large, anyone could be the direct beneficiary of the new project. Right?
A quick look at the big company of Hill International reveals some startling information.
At the two pre-bid meetings June 16, 2011
And June 4, 2012
held by the City of Anaheim for businesses interested in working on the Anaheim Rapid Connect program, only Steve Lodge and his wife appeared to represent Hill International. Lodge’s wife is an Executive who appears to work on salary, so she gets paid whether the company nails this job or not. Lodge on the other hand…..
Steven Albert Chavez Lodge submitted his Contract with Hill International to the court system, as evidence related to that recent unpleasantness between us. Therefore the Contract is now part of the public record, anyone can go into Judge Margines’ public records online and see the evidence Lodge submitted. (it was thrown out, but he did submit it.)
Lodge’s contract specifies that he will receive 1% of new work he brings in as a “finder’s fee”, see below.
Again, Hill is a big company, I am sure that plenty of professionals are feeding them opportunities for new contracts. Hill is sure of it too, they have a system in place, to ensure that their people are appropriately credited with the “find.”
That the contract Natalie Meeks is pushing to sign with Hill is directly attributed to Mike Smith, Steve Lodge’s direct report, is merely a coincidence I am sure. That the only individuals to represent Hill International during previous meetings for this project have been Steve Lodge and/or his wife may be mere coincidence as well.
And should Steve Lodge be the individual who “registered” this “opportunity” with Hill, and stands to make that 1% finder’s fee, again, there is nothing illegal in that. He is entitled to earn a living. And 1% of $9,612,332 is a very nice living indeed.
But if one considers the possibility-indeed the probability-of Steve Lodge being the one earning that finder’s fee, then one must naturally also consider the possibility that his candidacy for City Council may have affected the timing for approving this project.
Is it possible that Anaheim’s citizenry was force fed an ill conceived transportation project over the very reasonable objections of a cautious Mayor, not because the project needed to move forward for the good of Anaheim, but because the Contract needed to be awarded before Lodge was potentially elected to office and therefore forced to declare a conflict of interest?
One expects that when a deal for over nine and a half million dollars is on the line, Hill International’s Mike Smith might very well be on hand during the City Council meeting this evening, to answer questions. And one of the questions from Council should probably be whether or not Steve Lodge submitted the ARC project as a “registered opportunity”, therefore calling dibs on the commission should the project pan out with work for Hill.
If Mr. Smith’s answer is yes, Hill should still be considered for the project. And Lodge should still be paid his 1% finder’s fee, he worked for it. But we should also look long and hard at the process which Natalie Meeks used to determine how her friends at Hill International were chosen as the best company for the project, especially in light of their documented financial problems. And in light of this information we should also question the speed with which Natalie Meeks and Kris Murray pushed a project over the reasonable request for a short delay made by Mayor Tom Tait.
Are we doing what is best for the people of Anaheim? Or are we doing what is best for the friends of our leaders?
11. Approve a Professional Services Agreement with Hill International, Inc., in an amount not to exceed $9,612,332, for the Anaheim Rapid Connection fixed-guideway project, and authorize the Public Works Director to issue a Notice to Proceed for the environmental and project development activities and a Notice to Proceed for preliminary engineering upon approval by the FTA to begin that phase.
END OF CONSENT CALENDAR
Placed on the agenda at the request of Council member Kris Murray. Here is yet another play by our Council majority to overstep Anaheim’s business model in what looks like a blatant power grab. The negotiations with Enterprise Businesses are traditionally the purview of the City Manager’s office, and indeed our City Manager is the former finance director, so nobody in the City is more familiar with the deal points of that particular agreement. Why is Murray insisting on stepping into a role that is outside the authority of City Council members? And will a photographer and press agent be involved?
Once again, an item placed on the Agenda at the request of Council member Kris Murray, always a red flag for me anymore. On the surface it makes sense, it appears that Murray is asking for a requirement that Anaheim appointees to regional boards be Anaheim residents. But given the recent division, let’s look further. First of all, Murray already has some voice in a number of these appointments, if they are subject to a Council majority vote. So I suspect this is linked to an attempt to tie the hands of Mayor Tait on those appointments that are traditionally the Mayor’s choice, outside of Council input.
Frankly it is none of her business and Kris Murray needs to either butt out of the Mayor’s office or run for election to it, but until 2014 she needs to stop trying to run Tait’s office from her end of the dais. For that reason alone I say this should probably not be approved.
Second of all, these are regional boards. That means Tait is not appointing an Anaheim person to look after Anaheim, but appointing representatives to look out for the best interest of the region which Anaheim is a part of. And on that level, it seems foolish to constrain Mayors of the future from tapping into the knowledge of someone who might offer expertise on a subject that benefits the entire area as a whole. Given a choice between putting a transportation expert from Yorba Linda on an OCTA board, vs an Anaheim leader with no background, let’s use the brain trust that future leadership might be offering.
What I find especially galling is that anytime we want to put boundaries on something the Council majority wants to do, we are told it is “irresponsible” to tie the hands of future Councils. But if there is something they want to limit the Mayor on, there seems to be no hesitancy to tie his hands, and those of future Mayors, to get something they want.
I am not sure what the back story is on this proposal by Council member Murray. I only smell a rat.
Stay tuned for tonight’s meeting, which can be seen online athttp://anaheim.granicus.com/ViewPublisher.php?view_id=2 or attend in person, beginning at 5 pm, at City Hall 200 S. Anaheim Blvd in the downtown area.