Report details conflicts that led to firingFargo Public Works Director Al Weigel awarded no-bid contracts to his business partners, used a city credit card to fill one of their vehicles with gas, accepted free tickets to sporting events and made hundreds of photocopies of their business brochure, according to the report that led to his firing Friday.
By: By Mike Nowatzki, Forum Communications Co. , The Jamestown Sun
FARGO — Fargo Public Works Director Al Weigel awarded no-bid contracts to his business partners, used a city credit card to fill one of their vehicles with gas, accepted free tickets to sporting events and made hundreds of photocopies of their business brochure, according to the report that led to his firing Friday.
The report, made public Monday, says Weigel admitted there could be an “appearance of impropriety” based on his actions, but he denied any wrongdoing or policy violations.
Weigel now has until Monday to appeal his firing to the Fargo Civil Service Commission, which meets next on April 13.
His boss, City Administrator Pat Zavoral, called the matter “an isolated case” and said no other Public Works staffers are under investigation.
He noted the city of Fargo has roughly a $110 million annual budget for projects and operations, and that annual audits “would suggest that all the funds have been used for what they were intended.”
“Al suggests that he was doing the right thing for the city,” Zavoral said Monday. “He just didn’t – he absolutely didn’t follow the rules that were put in place preventing these sort of relationships to occur.”
Weigel did not respond Monday to an e-mail message and a phone message left at a number from which he called The Forum on Friday.
Weigel had been on paid administrative leave since Feb. 24 while a firm hired by the city reviewed his involvement and alleged conflict of interest with Epic Solutions of Fargo.
Epic Solutions CEO Jeff Wilkens and Vice President Tim Marthe are partners with Weigel in Quad Investments, which owns the building in which Epic operates.
The city paid Epic about $215,000 from 2007 to 2009 for a global positioning system for city trucks.
Weigel didn’t follow Zavoral’s instructions to get proposals for the GPS project and instead awarded Epic what “basically turned out to be a sole source project,” according to the 157-page report by Forensic Solutions LLC of West Fargo.
“Epic was awarded, in effect, a no-bid contract for the GPS system,” the report states.
Among the report’s other findings:
* Weigel received a $2,000 personal loan from Marthe when Weigel was having financial difficulty during the 2009 flood.
* Weigel used tickets supplied by Epic Solutions to attend Fargo Force hockey games and the North Dakota State University homecoming game last fall. Weigel and Epic officials told forensic examiners that other Public Works employees used the tickets, as well.
* Weigel used a city credit card to buy $844 in fuel for an Epic vehicle in February while on a trip to a trade show in San Antonio. Weigel said it was cheaper than driving his city vehicle or flying to Texas, the report states.
* A $6,570 laptop computer purchased by Epic and invoiced to the city was given to Weigel, who said he used it to monitor the GPS system from home. Weigel turned in the laptop to the city attorney on March 9.
* Weigel admitted to using city equipment to photocopy sales brochures for Epic, but he explained that it was in exchange for Epic promoting the city by demonstrating the city’s GPS system at the trade show in San Antonio. City policy forbids such activity.
Zavoral said the city has checks and balances in place to prevent conflicts of interest. Specifically, its purchasing policy requires department heads to solicit bids for any project over $25,000 and to get at least three quotes for purchases of $10,000 to $25,000.
“That process helped us in identifying what was going on,” Zavoral said.
According to the report, city Finance Director Kent Costin questioned Weigel in October 2008 about why Epic invoices were being charged to non-capital operating accounts when they appeared to be startup costs for a major capital project. At that point, the city had paid Epic $41,141 for work on city vehicles.
Shortly thereafter, Weigel and Epic officials gave a demonstration of the GPS system. Zavoral “specifically instructed” Weigel to prepare a request for proposals (RFP) to allow companies to bid on the project.
Weigel failed to do so and awarded Epic what essentially was a no-bid contract, the report states.
Weigel and Epic contend that the GPS system consisted of multiple projects, not a single project, and therefore didn’t meet the threshold to require bids.
Weigel also told examiners that Epic was the only vendor that could provide the equipment and services he needed. But other Public Works employees disagreed, saying other vendors could provide the same services for less, the report states.
According to a summary of examiners’ interview with Weigel on March 9 and 10, he said he believes the RFP policy is “jaded” and not a “cut and dry” procedure. He admitted there might be an appearance of impropriety, but said there’s a logical explanation for each issue, and he feels he didn’t violate any city policy.
“I lived and breathed this job,” the report quotes him as saying. “I love this job. I love doing my job. I can honestly say I save the city hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
If Weigel appeals to the Civil Service Commission and isn’t satisfied with the outcome, he can appeal to the City Commission.
Mike Nowatzki is a reporter at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.