Midvale's plan to install energy-efficient streetlights throughout the city has temporarily slowed due to a flawed bid process that has spurred a criminal investigation.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill confirmed Tuesday that the probe began about two months ago. He declined to give any details because the investigation is ongoing.
But public documents point to the possibility that a city employee played a part in drafting bid solicitations that benefited himself and a business partner.
In March, Midvale Fleet/Facilities Manager Bryce Westcott resigned after 13 years with the city. According to City Council minutes, Westcott had been actively involved with the ambitious lighting project since at least the fall of 2011.
On Oct. 25 of that year, Westcott told council members he had been looking at lighting solutions and mentioned WT Group as an economical source for lighting using alternative-energy sources.
According to Westcott, the company could typically beat retail prices by 30 percent to 45 percent. Meeting minutes show City Manager Kane Loader suggested that Midvale seek bids for a lighting consultant and asked that WT Group submit a proposal.
The company obtained that consulting contract and, on Sept. 11, 2012, Scott Thompson of WT Group presented a $2.3 million streetlight plan that would retrofit existing lights for $1.2 million and install 293 new ones to illuminate Midvale's dark spots for another $1.1 million.
What Westcott didn't disclose, according to council minutes, was that he previously had been the "W" in the company's name.
According to the Utah Department of Commerce website, the company's July 2011 application to conduct business indicated the limited liability company had two members: Westcott and Scott Thompson, both residents of Highland.
A document dated Jan. 15, 2012, indicated that Westcott paid $15 to have his name removed from WT Group's active business registration, which currently shows Thompson as its sole member.
Thompson is also the registered member for DiVi Energy LLC, a lighting company based at the same address as the WT Group. DiVi Energy was one of 10 businesses to submit bids in late 2012 for the initial one-year contract to install new streetlights and retrofit old ones throughout the city.
Those bids were opened Jan. 28, said City Recorder Rori Andreason, and ranged in cost from $305,948 to $591,380.
Due to vendor concerns, the first Request For Proposal (RFP) had to be rewritten and put out for bid a second time. The deadline to submit proposals under the revised bid solicitation is Monday.
Several attempts to reach Thompson and Westcott for comment were unsuccessful.
Phil Hill, assistant city manager for Midvale, said the first RFP for the 1,300-plus lights project was too strict and required too much.
"A lot of it just had to do with how efficient the lights had to be," Hill said. "We didn't feel it was truly attainable for most of the manufacturers throughout the United States and the world."
According to City Attorney Craig Hall, some vendors had expressed concerns about how the RFP was so specifically drafted.
That document was drafted jointly by city staff and the WT Group, Hall said, but Midvale did not discover Westcott's ties to the consulting firm until allegations were made about the RFP's perceived irregularities.
DiVi Energy appeared to meet the RFP's specifications "on its face," Hall added. "But the final review of the bid still needed some work, and we never got there."
Westcott's last day with the city was March 5, though Hill said he was not asked to resign.
Midvale's citywide lighting project
$2.3 million • Cost to retrofit old lights, install new ones
$290,000 • Annual debt service on the bond
12 years • Term of the bond
Monthly fees • In February, Midvale began collecting $2 per residence, $6 per business to pay about 71 percent of debt service
Source: Midvale documents