Tom Butt
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  Forgotten Tales of Point Molate - Selection of Point Molate Reuse Plan Consultant
May 5, 2022

The most contentious issue to face the City Council after the 1995 election was the selection of a consultant to prepare the reuse plan for Point Molate. Not satisfied with the short list selected to be interviewed by staff, the City Council insisted on interviewing all the candidates, subsequently reaching down to one ranked low by staff to which to award the contract. I cried “foul” and eventually prevailed on the Navy to compel the City to repeat the whole process. Feelings and egos were bruised during the process, in which I accused lobbyist Darrell Reese of improper meddling in the process. Several City Council members hired an attorney and threatened to sue me. Eventually, the consultant ranked first by staff was awarded the contract.

The saga started on March 4, 1996, when staff presented the results of a staff committee rating of potential consultants to develop the Reuse Plan for Point Molate.  The team selected by the City Council was one ranked next to last by the staff committee but also promoted by lobbyist Darrell Reese. I never figured out exactly what Reese’s end game was, and maybe he had none other than to sell the plan to the highest bidder. In any event, it was the beginning of a war between the City Council and me as my own baptism by fire into Richmond politics. My only ally was Mayor Rosemary Corbin.

On March 21, 1996, I wrote the following to the editor of the West County Times:

Anyone watching Richmond's March 4 City Council meeting was treated to an exhibition of raw political power unmatched in recent history.

The selection of the consultant for the Point Molate Reuse Plan left objectivity in Richmond politics looking like mangled roadkill, flattened and ground into the pavement by a hit-and-run Darrell Reese political machine.

It is now clear that Reese owns five members of the City Council and that he sells their votes off like slabs of premium pork in a political butcher shop to anyone willing to pay the price.

I believe the consulting team headed by Dan Peterson & Associates was hand-picked by Reese for the Point Molate assignment.

Although Peterson was ranked next to last of seven teams interviewed by city staff and was also ranked low by the City Council, Reese's five votes assured Peterson the contract without any substantive debate or compelling justification.

The staff report provided to City Council members noted that his team had "weak project management" and "no relevant experience."

Each of the six teams not selected for this project spent $5,000 to $20,000 in good faith, preparing voluminous proposals and appearing at two formal interviews.

They now know they were simply cannon fodder in a pre-wired political deal.

This kind of duplicity is devastating to Richmond's reputation and will severely damage our ability in the future to attract top-notch talent to apply for city consulting contracts.

The only reason given for Peterson's selection is that he is a "local" firm and that "the city puts a premium on hiring local workers." The term "local" may be technically correct, but "obscure" might be more appropriate.

With several highly qualified and well-established firms to choose from, all with significant experience in base-closure planning, Reese-owned city council members chose a one-person "firm" with no pertinent experience.

Several of the higher-rated firms were woman-owned and African American-owned. Peterson, who is a white male, has no office and no employees. He works alone in his Richmond home.

Like Hilltop and Marina Bay ads, which neglect to mention Richmond, Peterson uses a Marin County (415 area code) phone number and lists himself only in the Marin County Yellow Pages.

His wife's "firm," Architectural Preservation Consultants (located in the same condo) is included as a major subconsultant on the team but is not even listed in the phone book.

Sometimes I wonder why we don't just cut out the middlemen and turn the city over to Reese. It would save money on City Council expenses, stop wasting my time, and provide the same results.
My complaints, of course, had no effect on the City Council, but a little research turned up the fact that the City Council’s selection process violated federal procurement regulations, to which the City was bound with respect to the Point Molate Reuse Plan.

RICHMOND Federal authorities are evaluating allegations outlined in a letter from City Councilman Tom Butt that there were improprieties in the council's selection of a consultant for the Point Molate reuse plan, a representative said Friday.

"It's under internal review at this point," said Toby Halliday, project manager for the Office of Economic Adjustment in the Department of Defense. He said they hope to respond to the letter by early this week.

Point Molate, west of the Chevron refinery in Richmond, is a former naval fuels depot that the Defense Department ordered closed last year, saying it was no longer needed. The 400-acre site could be developed in a variety of ways.

As the designated reuse authority for the site, the city of Richmond is in charge of reuse planning. The federal Office of Economic Adjustment has committed a $150,000 grant to Richmond for the reuse design. That will help pay for Peterson's services.

Butt's letter accuses five of his fellow council members of selecting a certain consultant not on merit but as part of a political deal.

"I believe there is evidence that members of the governing board may have solicited or accepted gratuities, favors or other items of monetary value directly or indirectly from the contractors," Butt wrote Helene O'Conner, acting director of the Office of Economic Adjustment.

The council bypassed consultants recommended by city staff and hired Dan Peterson & Associates because he was a qualified Richmond architect, they said. The city prefers to hire local consultants when possible. City staff ranked Peterson sixth out of seven applicants.

Several of the council members involved have said the process was completely above-board.

But Richmond firefighters' union political consultant Darrell Reese "lobbied heavily for the selection of the Peterson team for this contract," Butt wrote the OEA.

Council members voting on March 4 for Peterson were Irma Anderson, Nat Bates, Alex Evans, Richard Griffin and Lesa McIntosh.

Butt said Friday he did not intend to imply in his letter that the council members received bribes for their votes. Rather, he said, he was referring to the fact that the five people who voted for Peterson received significant backing from the firefighter’s union in their election campaigns.

"They say, that didn't influence me,' " Butt said. "I don't believe that."

Evans called Butt's allegations "ludicrous."

"It's absolutely baseless, libelous, slanderous speculation on his part that shows both his naivete and lack of understanding of the political process," he said.

The other four council members named in Butt's letter were not available for comment Friday afternoon.

Butt said he has since been "shunned" by the five council members that are the subject of his accusations. He may thus be unable to get votes for his own initiatives, he said.

"As far as I'm concerned, I'm sort of dead meat up there for the foreseeable future."

Evans said, "He's absolutely correct. . . . When he crossed the line and said my disagreements with him were based on corruption, he has to find his way back."

Any attempts at a reconciliation must be based on courtesy and respect, Evans said.

"Tell Tom to put his tea set away. This is not a garden party."

City Manager Floyd Johnson said he discussed Butt's letter with Halliday and told him the city would respond, if asked, for any written requests for information. So far, Halliday's office has asked for nothing, he said.

Johnson said Halliday told him that, at most, the federal government would require the city to go through the selection process again. The grant is not yet in jeopardy, Johnson said.

Butt also sent a copy of his letter to the Contra Costa County grand jury. (Feds Probe Richmond Consultant Choice,” West County Times, April 29, 1996)
As the matter progressed, several City Council members retained attorney John Burris to write me a threatening letter.

RICHMOND Federal authorities have referred concerns about the selection of the Point Molate base re-use consultant to Defense Department attorneys, officials said Wednesday.

As the City Council prepares to vote Tuesday on whether to approve the consultant's contract, city officials still do not know if they will be forced to scrap the hiring process they went through in March. They could even lose the planning grant altogether.

In the meantime, several council members accused of corruption in the matter have threatened a fellow council member with legal action.

The planning grant was provided by the Office of Economic Adjustment, a division of the Defense Department. Point Molate is a former naval fuels depot that shut down last year.

"If OEA's investigation determines that Richmond acted in violation of federal guidelines or policies, we could be required to re-bid the grant or the grant could be terminated," Pat Jones told the council Tuesday. Jones works in the City Manager's Office.

Federal officials could also determine that there were no improprieties in the consultant selection.

Five members of the council chose a local architect, Dan Peterson & Associates, as the project consultant. The controversial vote came after a staff committee ranked Peterson sixth out of seven applicants.

Councilman Tom Butt accused his colleagues of choosing Peterson not because he was the most qualified but because they were lobbied by Darrell Reese, who supported them in their elections.

The five have vehemently denied the charges.

The review process may take another two weeks, said Helene O'Connor, acting director of the OEA.

Federal officials are looking into the matter because Butt wrote a letter to O'Connor in April accusing some of his fellow council members of violating federal requirements

O'Connor wrote back in late April, saying that the city must exhaust all of its local remedies for resolving procurement disputes before the federal government gets involved.

But Richmond City Attorney Malcolm Hunter told the council Tuesday that Richmond has no such "local remedies."

Since Peterson was hired by the council, acting as the Local Reuse Authority, the matter had already been decided by the highest legislative body of the city, Hunter said.

He said he told an OEA official that if they needed more information about the city's procurement procedures, Richmond would have to see the request in writing.

That "stalling" has probably added a week to the process, Butt said Wednesday.

In the meantime, the subject still inflames Butt's colleagues.

"I don't understand what, if any, law or ethic has been broken at any level," said Councilman Alex Evans at the Tuesday meeting. Evans is one of the five who voted for Peterson.

He and the others Nat Bates, Lesa McIntosh, Irma Anderson and Richard Griffin hired attorney John Burris to write a letter to Butt.

"Your colleagues demand that you refrain from making any further statements which allege, or suggest, criminal impropriety on their part," the May 2 letter said. "A public retraction is called for and this is a formal demand that you do so immediately."

If Butt refuses, Burris said his clients may seek legal remedies. "This option is under serious consideration," he wrote.

Butt has not complied with the request.

The OEA gave Richmond $150,000 to come up with alternative uses for Point Molate, a 400-acre former naval fuels depot that the Defense Department says it no longer needs. (Defense Department Looks into Complaint on Hiring Consultant,” West County Times, May 9, 1996)