3/08/2007

Open it UP!

The Tribune carried a short article this morning about a 'disagreement' between City Manager, John Lawton, and Charles Christensen, a local pediatrician.

Christensen complains that SME's engineering expert revised its coal plant cost estimates up from $515,000,000.00 to $678,000,000.00 back in December 2006. Lawton states that "city officials became aware of the new estimates last month." He further said that "the city released the information less than 24 hours after receiving the Beck report," which was sometime last week. (The Beck report was publicly released on March 2, 2007.)

So the City knew that the primary consultant on the SME plant had revised its cost estimate upwards by roughly 32% yet chose to sit on this information for 1-3 months. If I were a betting man (which I am) I would wager that the City had a pretty good idea that the Beck study would come in even higher and made the conscious decision that it would be less politically damaging if both numbers were released at the same time, rather than releasing them in the order received. I would guess that the City feared a public perception of the cost incrementally increasing...up, up, up...over a period of just a few months.

"The city exposed the cost increases, it did not conceal them," Lawton said. He said city officials became aware of the new cost estimates last month.

Lawton said he believes it was reasonable for the city to wait for the Beck firm to analyze the cost estimates before announcing them, noting it was important to have a professional analysis of the figures.

This is just wrong on so many levels. First, if the City had the information but chose not to release it, how can anyone say that the City "did not conceal" the information. Believe me, if the $678,000,000.00 were released, I can virtually guarantee that someone, a blogger, the Tribune, you name it, would have known about it. Of course this number was concealed.

And the City believes "it was important to have a professional analysis of the figures?" I thought Stanley Consultants had "years of experience in the coal-fired generation field." Why did we need a second "professional" analysis before they were released?

I am sure that Manager Lawton, Coleen Balzarini, and others feel as though they are under siege on this issue. It's fair to say, though, that they have no one to thank but themselves. Their strategy of hiding the ball, obfuscating facts, and generally misleading people, all the while proclaiming the openness of the process, is failing. They are turning supporters to potential detractors.

Aside from the fact that good government demands real openness, this is simply not good project management. Officials cannot truly believe that they will be able to sneak a $720,000,000.00 (and counting) project through without close public scrutiny.

Can they?

1 comment:

big sky husker said...

The hits just keep on coming with Lawton. What a jackass.