Archive for Saturday, November 1, 2003

Probe finds Wichita mayor’s influence led to friend’s hiring on city project

November 1, 2003


— A contracting company was told to hire a friend of then-Mayor Bob Knight as a subcontractor as a condition of getting a $3 million city job, according to documents and interviews with city employees.

The Wichita Eagle and KWCH-TV conducted a joint investigation into the contract that was aimed at making energy-saving improvements to public buildings.

The project was awarded to general contractor, t.a.c., an international information technology firm, which was known at the time as Control Systems Inc., or CSI.

And DEN Management -- owned by Knight's friend, David E. Norris -- was named as the mechanical subcontractor and ultimately got about $500,000 worth of work from the deal.

When the contract was under consideration in 1999, Norris also was member of the mayor's airfare task force.

Knight and Norris have denied any wrongdoing as has City Manager Chris Cherches.

But Steve Lackey, the city's public works director, said the directive to include Norris' company in the project came from Cherches.

"The way it was presented to me was the mayor was interested" in Norris' company getting the work, Lackey told reporters.

Lackey informed then-building and fleet maintenance director Dan Grohn of the request. Grohn said when he questioned the order, Lackey told him it came "straight from the Mayor's Office."

Grohn, now retired, passed on the order to the general contractor. The chain of events was confirmed by Lackey, Grohn and Grohn's former assistant Paul Drouhard.

Cherches denied having any part in the directive. "It certainly didn't come from me, (and) I can't remember, since I've been in Wichita, any member of any City Council who ever tried to get me to influence a bid process."

Knight said he didn't try to steer either contract, though he may have encouraged Cherches "to use local companies as much as possible."

"It's not unusual for me to express an opinion it should be someone local," Knight said. "That translates into jobs that translate into economic growth."

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