Commissioner has questions about secretive gear

Print
Email
|

by BRETT SHIPP

WFAA

Posted on August 2, 2011 at 10:03 PM

Updated Tuesday, Aug 2 at 10:29 PM

NEWS 8 INVESTIGATES

DALLAS — News 8 has been asking to see a half-million dollars worth of Dallas County equipment for two weeks.

On Tuesday — when one county commissioner asked to see the same equipment — she said she was ignored.

At the center of the issue: A normally mild-mannered and always accessible Dallas County Health Director Zachary Thompson.

But Thompson has stopped answering questions; suddenly silent over questions about emergency satellite equipment he bought for the Health Department six years ago from a company called Wai-Wize.

It is equipment purchased from a company and a man closely tied to Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, and identified in a warrant in the ongoing FBI investigation of Price.

The equipment in question includes three mobile satellite communications systems supplied by Wai-Wize and paid for by a federal grant to provide the Health Department with communication services in case of an emergency.

The principal partner of Wai-Wize is Dallas radio personality and friend of Commissioner Price, Willis Johnson.

According to the search warrant served on Price last month, federal agents were looking for any correspondence linking Price with Willis Johnson and Wai-Wize.

Since 2005, Dallas County has paid Wai-Wize more than $600,000 for the purchase and maintenance of the equipment.

Former Dallas County Judge Jim Foster said he first started asking the purchasing director questions about the satellite equipment one year ago.

"I said, 'When you find out what it is, you come back and talk to me or else take it off the agenda,'" Foster said. "It never did come back up on the agenda. That was the end of it, just because I started asking questions."

Two weeks ago, News 8 began asking the same questions to Zachary Thompson. He initially indicated he would show us the equipment and answer all of our questions.

He then referred our requests to the Dallas County district attorney.

Now, Dallas County Commissioner Maurine Dickey also wants to know about the equipment. She is trying to get answers — and access to the equipment that News 8 and former County Judge Jim Foster were not allowed to see.

"If the taxpayer pays for something, then why not let him see those? Dickey asked at the meeting of Commissioners Court on Tuesday.

"I defer that to the district attorney's office," Thompson replied.

Moments later, the district attorney's office told Dickey it has no say over allowing the public to view equipment.

By Tuesday afternoon, News 8 was told it could finally see what the county had invested more than half-a-million dollars in.

Zachary Thompson, according to Commissioner Dickey, had agreed to let her access the warehouse where the equipment is stored.

Waiting half an hour in 109 degree heat, Dickey said decided she had been stood up.

"I got here 30 minutes ago, and he still hasn't shown up — although he left the meeting before I did," Dickey said. "It doesn't look like I’m going to see that equipment."

News 8 has spoken with Willis Johnson of Wai-Wize, who has shown us work orders and contracts affiliated with the satellite communication units he sold the county.

Thompson said the equipment in question was used recently when the county's records building flooded.

Still, according to Johnson, the FBI is asking him to produce records of his work.

At this point, News 8 still has no idea why.

No one associated with the investigation has been charged with a crime.

E-mail bshipp@wfaa.com

Print
Email
|