Another NTTA consultant contract questioned

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by BRETT SHIPP

WFAA

Posted on September 30, 2011 at 11:29 PM

DALLAS - For the second time in as many months, the former Chairman of the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) is calling for a review of a consultant contract.

At issue, another consultant's report, paid for by public money, portions of which appear to have come from someone else's work on the internet.

The program in question is the NTTA's successful, new minority opportunity program called Relationships and Opportunities Advancing Diversity, or R.O.A.D.

In 2009, the NTTA awarded a no-bid contract to a company called Alpha Business Images (ABI) to develop the program. ABI is owned by Sophia Dowl. The NTTA paid Dowl more than $20,970 for her services.

But were her services actually her services?

A News 8 review of the 2009 report shows remarkable similarities to a 2007 report, produced by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Page after page, multiple paragraphs of program details appear to have come from the State of Illinois' web site.

In the “evaluation criteria” section, every bullet point, almost every word is identical.

The NTTA report has a “personnel” and a “financial” section. The Illinois report has almost identical “personnel” and “financial” sections.

Also from the NTTA report is a paragraph that reads, "failure to submit timely reports or submission of incomplete reports, is possible grounds for dissolution of the relationship." The same paragraph, almost word for word, appears in the Illinois report published two years earlier.

We showed the program similarities to then NTTA Board Chairman Victor Vandergriff.

“If it is not quality work, if it’s something we could have achieved ourselves without having to pay for it, then I have an issue or concern with that," Vandergriff said.

In August, we showed Vandergriff a 2008 report from another consultant, Willis Johnson, and his company, Wai-Wize.

News 8 discovered much of Johnson's report also appeared to have originated from a 1996 radio systems report we found on the internet, information the NTTA could have acquired for free. Johnson charged the NTTA nearly $50,000.

The common thread between the reports generated by Willis Johnson and Sophia Dowl is not just their similarities with other internet reports. Last year, Johnson and Dowl became husband and wife.

Vandergriff said he doesn't see their relationship as the issue.

“However,” said Vandergriff, “you've raised sufficient enough concern, with respect to the quality of those reports - the content of those reports, that I think this board should hear from the staff."

Yet NTTA staff declined our requests for an on-camera interview. They did release this statement:

"The R.O.A.D. Program is the flagship program that strives to improve inclusion opportunities in NTTA's procurement process. NTTA is pleased with the footprint of the program. NTTA did ask for examples of 'best practices from similar programs run by other agencies.'"

And while lifting language from other programs may be acceptable, News 8 found a clause in the NTTA's contract with ABI that informs the consultant its product is "extremely sensitive" and should be kept "confidential at all times."

Willis Johnson and his company, Wai-Wize, have been mentioned in a search warrant issued in the F.B.I. investigation of Commissioner John Wiley Price.

Johnson's wife, Sophia Dowl, has not responded to our numerous requests for comment.

E-mail bshipp@wfaa.com

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