A lawsuit filed in state district court on Thursday alleges that Gov. Matt Mead and legislative leaders are ignoring spending laws.
Plaintiffs Karl Allred, a gas plant worker from Evanston, and Rep. Gerald Gay (R-Casper) say the state has awarded nearly $600 million in construction contracts under “bid waivers” over several years, including for the Capitol building renovation and for refurbishing the Jonah Business Center for the Legislature’s temporary use.
“Even though the complaint revolves around the Capitol Square Project, this is something that’s gone on for quite a while,” Allred told reporters at a press conference at the Jonah Business Center Thursday. “The Capitol Square Project is the poster child for this issue.”
The state has issued some $226 million in contracts for the Capitol renovation without going through the normal bidding process, according to WyoFile research.
The lawsuit states, “This disregard for the competitive bidding requirements of Wyoming law exposes the public to the risk of not receiving competitively priced goods and services, the risk of crony capitalism, graft and corruption flourishing inside of state government, and risking the compromise of the integrity of government and the citizen’s trust in government.”
The plaintiffs are not seeking a financial judgement. “We’re just asking that in the future, follow the law,” Allred said.
The Capitol renovation project has spurred a massive shuffling of state employees in Cheyenne. All this shuffling has generated a significant amount of work for construction companies, movers, elevator contractors, and other vendors. And much of that work is proceeding outside of the normal bidding processes that drive state government purchasing. As of September, the state had awarded 41 bid waivers for the Capitol Square renovation project totaling $226.2 million. The total renovation is expected to cost $300 million or more.
Allred lives in Evanston and is a gas plant operator. He made an unsuccessful bid for the House of Representatives in 2010. He said he’s never bid for a state contract. “I have no interest in applying for a state contract I don’t do anything that would require a state contract,” he told WyoFile.
Parties on both sides of the lawsuit have wrangled before. Plaintiffs’ attorney Drake Hill is the husband of Cindy Hill, former Superintendent of Public Instruction. Hill clashed with legislative leaders and Gov. Mead creating a political rift that included a legislative investigation of Hill and stripping her of most of the Superintendent’s duties. The Wyoming Supreme Court ruled the legislature’s action unconstitutional.
Cindy Hill challenged Gov. Mead when he ran for a second term in 2014.
Allred and Drake were both active in the Wyoming Republican Party during Cindy Hill’s embroiled term as Superintendent of Public Instruction.
“It looks primarily to be political in nature, and the remedy requested is simply that we follow the constitution,” Rep. Tim Stubson (R-Casper) , who is named in the lawsuit, said. “I think the Attorney General has established we’re doing that, so we’ll let it play out.”
The complaint by Allred and Gay does not ask for compensation for court or attorneys’ fees, and plaintiffs said Drake Hill is not taking the case pro bono.
“We’ll definitely take donations,” said Allred. “Mr. Hill is being paid for this.”
The legislature overstepped its authority by forming a task force to help oversee the Capitol Square renovation project, according to the plaintiffs. “They are taking on the job of the executive,” Allred said. “Once those laws are created they need to step aside and let the executive do its job.”
Allred said he doesn’t believe that the large number of bid waivers in Wyoming points to a flaw in the state’s statutes guiding how contracts are awarded. Rather, the state too often waives the competitive bid requirement, which gives the appearance of impropriety.
“It should be above reproach,” Allred said. “It’s ethics. You maintain distance from appearance of any wrongdoing.”
“The statutes are clear and the statutes are good.,” Allred said. “The [state] constitution is good. They require it, we’re just not follow it.”
Defendants in the lawsuit include Gov. Matt Mead, Senate President Phil Nicholas (R-Laramie) Speaker of the House Kermit Brown (R-Laramie), Speaker of the House Eli Bebout (R-Riverton), Senate Minority Floor Leader Chris Rothfuss (D-Laramie), House Majority Floor Leader Rosie Berger (R-Big Horn), House Minority Floor Leader Mary Throne (D-Cheyenne), Rep. Tim Stubson (R-Casper), Sen. Tony Ross (R-Cheyenne), and Attorney General Peter Michael.
Read the complaint filed March 3, 2016 against Wyoming’s executive and legislative leadership: