Council approves special investigation into ROC lease
It doesn't often happen, but the City-County Council could resort to special powers to investigate a troubling deal that cost taxpayers millions of dollars.
The council voted unanimously to approve a resolution giving a committee subpoena powers to demand answers about the lease deal for the Regional Operations Center known as the ROC.
This development follows a 13 Investigates report that showed the original deal favored bankers, not the city.
Five weeks since the evacuation, and the ROC is still on lockdown.
It's a huge disappointment to nearby workers like Lee Estrada at the Blue Moon Grille.
"Sad seeing them loading up all the trucks, heading out," said Estrada, missing the staff members who visited the grille during the lunch hour.
But depending on how council members vote Monday night, the city could be forced to open more than just a few doors at the ROC.
"There needs to be an investigation," said Councilor Joe Simpson, calling for a special probe into the lease deal for what was supposed to be a premiere regional operations center for public safety.
Instead, the city is making a $57,000-a-month payment for a building shut down due to ongoing fire code violations.
"Not having the fire marshal go in and check off on everything, I thought that was kind of sketchy," said Estrada.
To make matters worse, the city signed a deal putting taxpayers on the hook for all maintenance and repairs and no way out.
"Why would you deal yourself a bad lease?" questioned Simpson.
It's just one of many questions the city has yet to answer.
Just weeks ago, 13 Investigates made another surprising discovery. The land owner of the old Eastgate Mall revealed he received undisclosed payments up front from the city.
"We were paid a nominal fee up front to allow them to lease the place to what amounted to $9 a square foot," Alex Carroll told 13 Investigates in September. "It was signed in confidential agreements," he added, refusing to divulge how much he pocketed.
Confidential agreements for city government?
"The taxpayers deserve some answers. You put it out there, I think it's up to us as council members to make sure of what's going on with the ROC," Simpson said, explaining his decision to pursue the investigation.
"I think it's necessary, yes," said Estrada looking at the evacuated building. "It just went down so fast," she said, missing her lunch crowd.
Under Simpson's proposed special investigation, those involved with the negotiations won't be allowed to beg off with "no comment." The proposed team of five Democrats and five Republicans would have subpoena powers, basically legal teeth to compel people like former Public Safety Director Frank Straub to talk about the deal.
"Straub may have to come back here and answer those questions because he's the key," Simpson said.
Simpson wants to know why the city allowed a broker with Wells Fargo Bank to draft the deal favoring the bank, while sticking the city and taxpayers with a 25-year lease for $18 million.
"We don't know if they're criminal, or if they just need to go before the ethics (commission), explained Simpson.
Right now, it's first things first, starting with getting council support for a rare special investigation.
The proposed sponsors in addition to Simpson, the 9th District Democrat, include:
Pamela Hickman - At Large, Democrat
Zach Adamson - At Large, Democrat
Robert Lutz - 13 District, Republican
Frank Mascari - 20th District, Democrat
Aaron Freeman - 25th District, Republican
Simpson says the last time the council invoked a special investigation with subpoena powers was for the Officer David Bisard crash.
13 Investigates reached out to both the city attorney and land owner Alex Carroll. Both refused comment.
The city is depositing payments into escrow each month and negotiations continue with Carroll over the a punch list of items in need of repair.