Frank Wilson Survival Watch, Day 3: Spanish Bombs

survival watch april 28.jpg
How long will the embattled Metro president last? Hair Balls presents today's installment of the Frank Wilson Survival Watch.

1. The Federal Transit Administration sends Frank Wilson a damning letter. Dorval Carter, the FTA's chief counsel, alerted Wilson at the end of last week that the feds are investigating a possible violation by Metro of the federal "Buy American" rules.

Those rules basically say that federally funded projects must use stuff like steel and iron that's produced in the United States, and the "rolling stock" (light rail vehicles in this case) must be assembled here.

Trouble is, Metro awarded a contract to a Spanish company to supply light rail cars for the planned North and Southeast light rail lines, which are supposed to be funded by $900 million in federal funds.

According to the letter, the Spanish company, Constucciones y Auxilar de Ferrocarriles, assured the FTA it would comply with the Buy American rules by assembling the cars at an American plant. But then Metro asked for a waiver to assemble a couple cars in Spain. In a letter from April of last year, the FTA denied Metro's waiver request.

Apparently, Metro didn't pay much attention to that denial.

"FTA has learned that Metro, PTG [the firm heading Metro's light rail construction] and CAF may be planning to assemble the two pilot LRVs in Spain," Carter wrote to Wilson. "Based on this information and in light of FTA's letter of April 14, 2009, I hereby initiate this review..."

The letter also states that the review will go beyond the Spanish contract for the light rail vehicles. The FTA will also investigate "whether [PTG] is complying with Buy America on the entire Facility Provider contract."

Paul Griffo, a spokeman with the FTA, said via e-mail, "The FTA has no comment beyond what is in the letter."

Metro spokeswoman Raequel Roberts told us that Metro wasn't commenting on this latest set back until the agency responds to the FTA. According to the letter, Metro must do so by May 14.

Survival watch: He's outta here. Both Mayor Annise Parker and Gilbert Garcia, the new Metro chairman, have said that Metro needs to regain the public's confidence. If they're serious about doing that, this letter does not bode well for Wilson.

Wilson can't handle much more anymore bad news, and he certainly can't handle anymore bad news about Spain.

Already Metro had to hire an outside firm, at $310 an hour, to investigate allegations that Wilson spent taxpayer dollars on his chief of staff and alleged girlfriend during a trip to Spain to meet with a rail car vendor.

Now, if awarding a contract to a rail car vendor in Spain comes back to cause more delays in Metro getting federal funding, or, even, Metro not receiving the federal funding, we don't see how Wilson could be around much longer.

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