Since we didn't put our marker down, we can't take any credit for seeing this one coming but we really should've seen it such was the predictableness of it all.
In what looked like merely shuffling of the deck furniture when the California High-Speed Rail Authority swapped out HMFICs, turns out to be quite juicy if you're into political intrigue, arm-twisting, conflicts of interest and cronyism.
The California High-Speed Rail Authority on Tuesday named Jeff Morales, an executive for a contractor working on the bullet train project, as its chief executive, filling a position that has been vacant since early January.
Morales, a former Caltrans director, had been working on the project as an executive of Parsons Brinckerhoff, the project manager for the rail authority.
Morales, a 1983 biology graduate of George Washington University, was appointed Caltrans director by then-Gov. Gray Davis. Morales left Caltrans 31/2 years later when Davis was voted out of office. Morales has also served as executive director of the Chicago Transit Authority, the Obama transition team and former Vice President Al Gore's attempts to improve federal efficiency.
Of course, he did.
And what of the outgoing boss?
Morales will fill the job that was last occupied by Roelof van Ark, who had shunned the political aspects of his post and attempted to focus on the engineering challenges. But that approach led to a wholesale loss of confidence in the Legislature, and ultimately Gov. Jerry Brown asserted greater control over the project, jettisoning Van Ark in January.
For the largest engineering/construction project in this nation's history and all the troubles that have befallen it, the previous paragraph illustrates perfectly how it's no longer about building the skids rather greasing them.
Back to the article:
The hiring of Morales appears to further strengthen the ties between the rail authority and its top contractor, Parsons Brinckerhoff. The contractor, which was a major contributor to the 2008 campaign to approve a $9-billion bond for the bullet train, has hundreds of employees assigned to the project, compared with fewer than 50 for the authority.(italics, ours)
Outside activists say that although Morales may be a good choice, they are increasingly concerned about the tight relationship the authority has created with Parsons Brinckerhoff and the larger revolving door between the authority and its contractors.
"Those lines are becoming more blurred every day," said Elizabeth Alexis, a co-founder of Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design.
... further strengthen the ties...
Yes, that would be one way of putting it.
Skepticism is bipartisan:
"The rail authority claims it conducted a nationwide search just to end up with an executive from its biggest contractor?" asked state Sen. Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale). "How can we expect this insider to provide an independent review of the project, when he helped write the plan that's already doubled the cost to taxpayers? It's difficult to believe that Mr. Morales can be counted on to drive a hard bargain with the company that has been paying his salary."
Senate transportation committee Chairman Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) said, "I am troubled by the relationship. It is hard to separate the conflicts."
Good god. Does this all stink to high heaven or what? Massively over-budget, massively behind schedule and massively understaffed so they do the only thing they can do at this point: they bring in a politically-connected fixer from the project's largest contractor to get this thing done by hook or by crook regardless of the shady appearances it bears.
Of course, they did. Of course, they did. And we never saw it coming. Shame on us.