Fargo public works director put on leaveFargo Public Works Director Al Weigel ignored city policy and bought more than $100,000 worth of equipment from a company in which he may have a personal financial stake, his supervisor wrote in a letter placing him on leave as the city looks into allegations against him.
By: By Mike Nowatzki, Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
FARGO — Fargo Public Works Director Al Weigel ignored city policy and bought more than $100,000 worth of equipment from a company in which he may have a personal financial stake, his supervisor wrote in a letter placing him on leave as the city looks into allegations against him.
In the letter, City Administrator Pat Zavoral accuses Weigel of a “grievous breach” of his duties and said he may have used his position and city equipment for the economic gain of himself and the Fargo company, Epic Solutions.
The Forum obtained the letter on Thursday. It was delivered to Weigel on Wednesday, the same day the city placed him on paid administrative leave.
City Attorney Erik Johnson remained mum on details of the allegation, saying only that it was made verbally to Zavoral and pertained to a violation of city policy regarding purchases.
“Al’s been a good employee of the city of Fargo. He’s done a lot of good things. This is just, let’s sit and wait and look into things, and this is part of the procedure for doing that,” Johnson said.
‘A grievous breach’
According to Zavoral’s letter:
In fall 2008, Weigel presented Zavoral and city Finance Director Kent Costin with a proposal for a global position system to track public works vehicles in the field.
They gave the concept a favorable review, but specifically directed Weigel to prepare a request for proposals consistent with the city’s purchasing policy.
The policy requires division and department heads to seek bids or quotes for large purchases to ensure fairness and that the city — and taxpayers — are getting the lowest possible price.
“You ignored procurement policy and the directive given and, instead, have engaged in a pattern of purchasing GPS equipment from Epic Solutions — purchases that exceed $100,000,” Zavoral wrote.
He continued: “This alone is a grievous breach of your duties to your employer; however, I am also now aware that you may have a personal financial interest in Epic Solutions and may have been utilizing your position and using city equipment and resources for the promotion or economic gain of Epic Solutions and, in turn, yourself.”
Weigel could not be reached for comment Thursday. Calls to his home weren’t answered and his voicemail box was full.
He was ordered to surrender his city cell phone, keys, ID badge and vehicle when he was placed on paid administrative leave at about 4 p.m. Wednesday.
No connection claimed
Epic Solutions CEO Jeff Wilkens said Thursday he hadn’t heard about the allegations against Weigel.
“I have no idea that it has anything to do with us, but I haven’t heard anything,” he said.
Weigel is not a partner in the business, Wilkens said.
“He has nothing to do with Epic,” he said.
However, business records on the North Dakota Secretary of State’s Web site list Weigel as the registered agent for Quad Investments, which owns the building that houses Epic Solutions at 4258 Third Ave. N., near the Fargo landfill.
Wilkens said he didn’t know Weigel was involved in Quad Investments.
“I guess I don’t know who all owns that,” he said.
Quad Investments registered as a North Dakota business in 2002. Weigel’s name is the only one that appears on its annual reports filed with the secretary of state.
Weigel also serves as secretary for the Northland Chapter of the American Traffic Safety Services Association, a trade association that represents businesses and individuals in the traffic control and roadway safety industry, according to its Web site.
The chapter’s current president is Tim Marthe of Epic Solutions.
The company registered in North Dakota as Epic Solutions in September 2007 but has existed in some form since 2000, Wilkens said.
Since 2007, the company has billed the city for about $215,000 in equipment and services. Wilkens said Epic Solutions does “all kinds of work” for the city — almost all of it for public works.
Lately, he said, most of that work has consisted of outfitting snowplows and other public works vehicles with GPS units used to keep track of which route the trucks are taking and how much sand and salt is spread.
The company also supplies the city with controls for trucks that apply de-icing chemicals, he said.
Epic Solutions has been awarded some, but not all, of its city contracts through the bidding process, Wilkens said.
“It all depends on what the project is,” he said.
Policy in question
The city hasn’t hired an outside investigator to look into the allegations against Weigel, and the matter could still be handled internally, Johnson said.
The policy in question requires the city to solicit bids or proposals for any purchase of goods and services of $25,000 or more.
A department head must approve the purchase, and the city’s finance director must concur.
For purchases of $10,000 to $25,000, the division head must seek out three quotes and the department head must concur.
Purchases under $10,000 don’t require bids or quotes.
Disciplinary action for violating the policy ranges from a verbal warning to termination, Johnson said.
It’s standard protocol to place someone on paid leave while the city investigates an allegation, he said, adding the city wants to be careful of what it says about the matter.
“We don’t want to pre-judge anyone,” he said.
Weigel joined the city’s engineering department after graduating from North Dakota State University in 1992.
He became a city engineer in 1993 and was appointed the city’s Public Works operations manager in October 2006, filling the spot left open when former director Dennis Walaker retired to run for mayor.
With the promotion, Weigel’s annual salary jumped from $67,592 to $75,735. His current salary is $95,520. Personnel records show supervisors gave Weigel generally good reviews.
Johnson said the city hopes to move quickly in its inquiry. Weigel was a key player in the city’s flood fight last year.
“The timing certainly could be better, maybe, in a sense that way,” he said. “But we think we’ll have flood things covered.”
Mike Nowatzki is a reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.