DETROIT - A former employee of the Detroit recreational department testified Monday that defendant Bobby Ferguson's company won a city contract despite coming second to last in evaluation committee reviews.
LaJuan Wilks, a construction project manager with the Detroit recreational department, told the court that she was surprised when she learned that Ferguson's Xcel Construction which had joint ventured with JOA Construction won the $7 million city contract.
Wilks was part of a five person evaluation committee which interviewed five different teams for the Heilmann Recreation Center project.
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The witness said that the JOA/Xcel team seemed unprepared in their presentation. While most teams used up every single minute of their allotted time, Ferguson's team spent some of their interview just sitting around. She described their demeanor as "kind of casual" and "rather relaxed for the size of the project." Wilks felt their actual presentation was unclear and found it "lacking, minimal."
After the presentations, the evaluation committee rated the five companies with a cumulative point system. Skanska, a company which scored 85 points, was ranked #1, and Spencer Dailey with 79 points was ranked #2. The JOA/Xcel team, which earned a paltry 42 points, ranked 4th out of the 5. And yet they somehow still got the job.
Wilks testified that she was very surprised when she learned that the Heilmann contract had gone to JOA/Xcel. At the end of the evaluation review process, Wilks testified that the committee was between Skanska and Spencer Dailey and had ultimately decided to go with Skanska. JOA/Xcel were not in the running as far as the witness was concerned.
Once they did start the project, they were less than efficient. Wilks said that typically she was only required to be onsite once or twice a week on construction projects but with the Heilmann contract she went almost daily. A similar project had taken just a year to complete while the Heilmann Center took more than three. Wilks described the construction site as understaffed and gave the project a "C" grade in terms of efficiency of design.
Wilks testified that Xcel Construction had another contract with Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) going on at the same time as the Heilmann project. She said that she and Ferguson were both at a water board meeting where she voiced her concern that two Xcel project managers, Michael Woodhouse and Calvin Hall, could not be at two different sites simultaneously.
Shortly after, Wilks said she was called into her boss Vincent Anwunah's office to have a meeting with Ferguson to discuss what she had said to the water board. Things got heated very quickly and some point she and Ferguson "both began to holler."
Wilks said that Ferguson told her, "The only reason you still have this job is because you're black." Wilks looked at her boss Anwunah and responded "This is how we let contractors come in and talk to us now?"
The witness testified that she felt her job was being threatened. She thought Ferguson had a connection to the mayor that was beyond her boss's control.
Tyrone Clifton, a project manager with the Detroit Building Authority (DBA), later told the court that Wilks called him after the confrontation with Ferguson. Clifton testified that Wilks was terribly upset and told him she felt her job was being threatened. Clifton said he felt that Wilks's reaction was over the top and that he strongly believed that there was no way that Ferguson could have influenced her job.
Clifton was also part of the evaluation committee that interviewed the teams for the Heilmann project. But while he admitted to being a little surprised the JOA/Xcel team landed the $7 million contract, he also thought "they seemed cool." Under cross examination by Jim Thomas, Kwame Kilpatrick's lawyer, Clifton testified that he found Elizabeth Ayanna Benson, Kilpatrick's cousin and mayoral appointee to the position of head of the DBA, to be hard working and extremely principled. He also testified that he, unlike Wilks, never saw any red flags on the Heilmann project.
Earlier in the morning, Southfield tailor Larry Alebiosu testified to making suits for the former Detroit mayor. Suits in Alebiosu's store run between $500 and $4,000 and Kilpatrick has purchased tens of thousands worth of suits there since first becoming a customer in 2001.
"The way I worked with mayor was different than how I worked with other customers. I pretty much worked with him however he wanted," said Alebiosu.
The tailor also told the court that Kilpatrick still has an outstanding balance at his store.
Court resumes 9 a.m. Tuesday.
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