Metro Chief Takes Stand
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – Copyright 2007
By William C. Lhotka
ST. LOUIS COUNTY – Metro President Larry Salci met the CEO of a worldwide engineering company at a hotel coffee shop in Salt Lake City in 2003 to complain about failures in its work on an eight-mile MetroLink extension.
That impromptu meeting, Salci told a jury Monday in St. Louis County Circuit Court, failed to stem a series of events that led him to fire the four companies Metro had hired to design and manage construction of the line from Forest Park to Shrewsbury.
The route opened one year ago, $126 million over budget and 15 months late.
“This is one of the most difficult decisions I ever had to make, and took great care doing it,” Salci said of terminating the companies on Aug. 10, 2004.
Along with the firing of the Cross County Collaborative, a joint venture, came Metro’s $100 million damage suit against Parsons Brinckerhoff and STV Inc., both of New York City; Jacobs Engineering Group of Pasadena, Calif.; and Kwame Building Group of St. Louis.
In the suit, the four companies are making a counterclaim for $17 million they say was owed when Salci sacked them. The trial could last until mid-November.
Salci testified all day Monday and was expected to face vigorous cross-examination today by defense attorneys who painted him in their opening statements as a villain.
Salci became chief executive of the Bi-State Development Agency in February 2002, replacing Tom Irwin. The $40.7 million contract with the CCC for design work was signed under Irwin’s watch.
By September 2003, Salci said, Metro had received numerous complaints from contractors about design work, an unfulfilled promise of a corrective action plan by CCC and a promise by an on-site manager that the four companies would do better.
At an industry convention in Salt Lake City, Salci used a third party to arrange the coffee shop meeting with Gary Griggs, president of Parsons Brinckerhoff, a company with 10,500 employees on six continents. Salci said he told Griggs he was unhappy with design work and lack of quality control, and that Griggs replied he would look into it.
Back in St. Louis, Salci got a call from Griggs that a new project manager was taking over, and a visit from Kevin Grigg, Chicago-based vice president of Parsons Brinckerhoff. He, too, assured Salci that he would follow up on the complaints.
“Did Grigg ever follow up and get back to you? Did you ever hear from him again?” asked Gordon Ankney, one of Metro’s lawyers. Salci said he did not.
A month later, Salci directed the first of two default letters to the CCC, warning that it was in violation of contracts.
The sequence of events and Salci’s management style are likely targets for cross-examination today.
In his opening statement, defense attorney James Bennett noted that Irwin had an open-door policy as Bi-State’s top officer, unlike Salci.
Bennett quoted Salci as saying in a sworn statement: “The only people I really care about that have any input with me are my 10 commissioners that hired me, and I care what Wall Street thinks about me, and I care what my headhunters care about in the case I have to go someplace else. And other than that, I just don’t care.”
Bennett said Salci’s list did not include an employee named Chris Craig, the project scheduler. “He was in charge of monitoring costs and in charge of monitoring the schedule,” the lawyer said.
Salci has alleged that the CCC concealed its incomplete design of the project and its cost overruns.
But Bennett said Craig knew in December 2002 that the CCC had not finished its overall design and that no one at the CCC was hiding anything. Salci never asked Craig for input, Bennett said, because Craig was too far down the chain of command.
Defense attorneys blame delays and cost overruns on Metro’s frequent plan changes to appease neighborhoods, unforeseen land acquisition problems, utility relocations and Metro’s own failure to monitor the project.