By a 5-to-5 vote along partisan lines, City-County Council Republicans beat back an effort by Democrats to subpoena 42 sets of documents related to the leasing, construction and operation of the Regional Operations Center.
Democrats on the council’s Regional Operations Center Investigating Committee sought the documents to piece together the deal that locked the city into a 25-year, $18 million agreement to lease the former Eastgate Consumer Mall for the Department of Public Safety.
Committee Chairman Joe Simpson told FOX59 News that he will meet with a council attorney to fashion a new approach to recovering the documents.
“I don’t know who was asleep at the switch,” said Councilman Joe Simpson, “but the taxpayers are on the hook for a lot of money.”
The city will pay $18 million over a quarter century for the ROC at the former Eastgate Consumer Mall which is intended to house Homeland Security, IMPD’s East District Headquarters and a number of specialty units.
The building has been empty since last September, when Public Safety Director Troy Riggs ordered it evacuated because of fire safety and workmanship concerns.
“They moved into an unsafe building,” said Simpson. “The building had not been approved by a punch list. It had not been approved by the fire department. I would say there were violations. They moved in there and it was unsafe.”
From its inception, the project has been a subject of controversy, missed deadlines and structural defects.
City-County councilors approved the long-term lease agreement presented by then-Public Safety Director Frank Straub in April 2011.
“I would say nobody was monitoring Straub or they ignored him or just let him do what he needed to do,” said Simpson. “I think that Straub had a blank check or the city checkbook.”
The city faced a February 2012 deadline after it promised the NFL it would have the center open in time for Super Bowl XLVI.
“It seems pretty apparent that we were trying to prepare for a Super Bowl and wanted to make sure that we had an infrastructure in place for an emergency operations center,” said Deputy Public Safety Director Valerie R. Washington, who was not assigned to DPS during the ROC contract negotiations, construction and initial operation. Under Riggs, Washington has led the effort to untangle the ROC dilemma and work with developer Alex Carroll.
“I don’t think it was intentional miscommunication. I think it was just the haste to get in for the Super Bowl.”
The city took possession of the building in late January 2012, as Straub and Mayor Greg Ballard pronounced it “state of the art.”
Almost immediately the center was plagued with gaffes and delays.
During the Super Bowl, large video monitors went down due to overheating. When east district officers were finally moved in months behind schedule, they found parts of the building unworkable. Employees complained of air quality issues, basement restrooms were closed off for health reasons and firewalls were not constructed.
Developer Carroll told FOX59 News that repeated changes to construction plans put the project months behind schedule and over budget.
Councilors who approved the deal wonder if they were misled, didn’t have all the information provided to them, or simply rubber-stamped the project in their zeal to prepare the city for its first Super Bowl.
“What we’re trying to do is put the whole picture together,” said Simpson, “and that’s part of the documentation. We want emails and so we can find out who knew what, when and how.”
Washington said DPS has already supplied the committee many of the documents it is seeking, some it didn’t even ask for, others that should have already been in the council’s possession.
“They had asked for any and all contracts, so, they were not very specific in that regard, so, we took it upon ourselves to research our public safety board back to 2010, 2011, 2012, to pull up those contracts.
“We have provided the lease document. We’ve provided the development agreement. We’ve scoured through public safety board meeting minutes and provided any and all contracts tied to the ROC that passed through the public safety board.
“We have supplied the ROC floor plans. We have supplied information to our fire safety and life safety issues that we have out there and the remedies we are going to use to fix those.”
Washington said the department is pulling permits to allow the developer to begin repairs and renovations to the building. She expects city employees to move back into the ROC by late April.
DPS agreed to pay Carroll approximately $89,000 to compensate him for previous invoices and costs that should’ve been borne by the city.
Since September, when all DPS employees moved out of the building, the city has paid its $57,000 per month lease payments into an escrow account that the developer and his lender, Wells Fargo, will tap once the building is reopened.
Washington said the city will eat that cost and the approximately $100,000 it has paid in overtime to firefighters to patrol the building in a fire watch role since the ROC’s fire suppression system is incomplete.
The committee, over objections of republican councilors, voted to issue subpoenas to DPS, seeking a variety of documents, including building permits, IFD violations reports, budgets and emails authored by Straub who ultimately signed off on the project without corporate counsel or controller approval.
“It appears there may be some missing documents,” said Washington. “According to the development agreement there were several attachments, and I think there was an attachment A-B-C-D, and we do not have those attachments, and that would lead me to believe there are some missing documents tied to the development agreement.”
Simpson said he is often asked if the committee will issue a subpoena to the man whose memory might fill in the blanks of the missing documents.
“And they say, ‘Councilor Simpson, are you going to subpoena Straub?’ and the answer right now is, ‘We don’t know because we have to get all this information.’ But I think the conclusion is very clear that Straub is going to have to come back here. I mean, it is absolutely clear that he is going to have to come back here and answer those questions.
“We know there were documents because he had to have them. He’s got to come back here.”
Straub is currently the police chief in Spokane, Wash.
“I’ve been told by some experts that if you do subpoena him, he has to come,” said Simpson.
Washington said Riggs and his staff have been stymied by the haphazard paper trail Straub left behind following his forced departure in August of 2012 and that Straub’s questioning under oath might enlighten investigators trying to decipher the ROC deal.
“I think it would help understand how we got here,” she said.