(Editor’s note: In a 2011 investigation, former Kentucky Auditor Crit Luallen found Metropolitan Sewer District was plagued by suspect business practices and conflicts of interest. In their report last December, Luallen’s investigators found that one MSD manager awarded $530,000 worth of contracts to personal friends. From the audit: When asked about the contracts, the manager said: “That’s what you do in business, help each other out — help people you know.”)
Last week, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer announced his approval for the merger of the Louisville Water Company and the Metropolitan Sewer District.
As of this writing, there is no formal plan to merge the two entities. The mayor has simply stated his support for the idea.
The merger raises many questions, not the least of which is duplication of some services and the fulfillment of supplier contracts.
In Louisville, nothing gets done without the approval of a few big power brokers. That system, however, often creates huge conflicts of interest that go unreported by local media and therefore remain unnoticed by citizens who continue to shell out big bucks to flush the “best tasting tap water in the country” down the toilet.
A deal as simple and routine as a contract to provide something like ready-mix concrete to MSD could end up costing ratepayers thousands of dollars more than it should because of insider connections.
But when you dig into a “simple” story that is as complicated as this one, you’ll have a headache worse than a tequila hangover.
First, lets muddy the water:
In the 1960’s brothers Bill Abel Jr and Bob Abel began working in the family construction business and would eventually take it over. The company became what is known today as Abel Construction Company, one of the most well-known outfits in Louisville.
The Abel family also started a concrete company that is still in business today as Advance Ready Mix. Bill Abel Sr. and Bob Abel both passed away unexpectedly in the 1990’s.
According to a 2010 article in Business First, Bill Jr.’s sister, Camilla, was eager to work in the family business – a move her father Bill Sr. first resisted by saying the nearly all-male construction trade wasn’t right for a woman. Shortly before the death of her uncle Bob, she left her customer service job at General Electric and went to work with the concrete company.
After the death of her father, Camilla Schroeder became president of Advance Ready Mix.
In 2002, Camilla Schroeder (then Camilla Fizer) was recognized with an award by MSD as a “DiverseWorks Champion.”
Her brother Bill Abel Jr manages the family concrete company and owns the family construction company.
Earlier this year, Advance Ready Mix bought competitor Pearce Ready Mix, which September 2011, had a $250,000 contract to supply MSD with ready mix concrete on an “as needed” basis.
MSD officials have stated that after acquiring Pearce, Advance Ready Mix was “unwilling” to fulfill the terms of Pearce’s deal to supply the sewer district, so the contract had to go up for bid.
In a stunning turn of events, the contract to supply ready-mix concrete on an “as needed” basis was won by Advance Ready Mix at a cost of $330,000 – $80,000 higher than MSD paid in the Pearce contract.
Advance submitted the lowest bid of three concrete companies, but was selected using a points system.
During the time between the re-bidding and awarding of the 2012 contract, Advance Ready Mix was utilized to provide concrete to MSD through a separate contract with the Louisville Water Company. MSD states the price was even higher using that method.
One of the deciding factors in MSD awarding the contract to Advance was the fact that Advance is classified as a woman-owned business. That earns the company extra points, and in this case won the contract.
Several insiders have alleged Camilla Schroeder is only a figurehead who is in place to gain business from governmental agencies for Advance because of Advance’s designation as a “Women-Minority Contractor.”
While there is no evidence to support that claim, Advance Ready Mix and Abel Construction’s powerful connections certainly put it in a better position to win contracts from local government.
To wit: An internal MSD document on the June 2012 short-load, ready-mix concrete bid lists none other than Ed Glasscock as the “registered agent” for Abel Construction Company, Inc.
Remember: Abel Construction is owned by the guy who “manages” Advance Ready Mix, and that guy’s sister is president of Advance.
And that’s the same Ed Glasscock who acts as lead counsel for the Louisville Arena Authority (owner of the KC Yum! Center) and serves on the University of Louisville’s Athletic Association (main tenant of the arena.)
Abel Construction Company built the U of L men’s basketball and women’s volleyball practice facility at the KFC Yum! Center, the Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium expansion and the Trager Indoor Training Facility for the University of Louisville’s athletes.
Advance supplied concrete for the KFC Yum! Center. The company and its president Camilla Schroeder are listed as “donors” to the Cardinal Stadium expansion.
As Mayor Fischer consults with interested parties about the consolidation of the Louisville Water Company and MSD, onlookers express hope that these type of contracts will be more heavily scrutinized in the future.
“You never hear about any questionable deals when you’re talking about the water company,” says one insider. “It seems like every time you turn on the news it’s something terrible about the sewer district. The ‘good old boys’ club, that type of thing. But maybe this merger would fix all that.”
It is unclear if any merger would indeed “fix” the problems plaguing MSD. And while the facts laid out here do not conclusively prove that Glasscock had anything whatsoever to do with Advance Ready Mix winning the MSD bid, these are all too-convenient coincidences involving Louisville’s power elite.
Insiders hint at as much, saying that while it doesn’t prove anything, “it never hurts to have a name like ‘Ed Glasscock’ on your paperwork.”
So it seems they are all in one big bed together.
Except it’s one of those filthy, vibrating beds that costs a quarter to operate.