Conflict of interests, a new job: all in the battle over weigh in motion technology in Missouri

  Photo: Shutterstock

Photo: Shutterstock

The ongoing competition between nonprofit HELP Inc. and Drivewyze over the installation of electronic weigh stations, also known as Weigh In Motion technology—which was just the focus of a battle in Oklahoma—was at the heart of a recently-released critical report in Missouri.

In her 48-page report, Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway said that actions taken by several state employees in regard to HELP “demonstrated clear conflicts of interest in administering the state’s weigh in motion contract.”

The key summary statement from the audit: “Missouri State Highway Patrol (MSHP) and Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) employees, who were also on the Heavy Vehicle Electronic License Plate, Inc. (HELP) Board, did not recuse themselves from preclearance and bypass discussions, and maintained questionable relationships with HELP representatives, including actively endorsing and promoting HELP to expand into other states, as well as actively steering other states and carriers away from HELP's competition.”

The report, which details dozens of emails among the various parties in question, claims that the actions of several employees with ties to HELP obstructed the ability of Drivewyze to also operate in the state. The report also charges that some of those employees didn’t focus just on Missouri;  “For example, Missouri employees attempted to influence contracting decisions in Texas, Kansas and Minnesota by advocating for one vendor (HELP, Inc.) and steering states away from competitors.”

The employees who served on the board included Col. Bret Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol, who joined HELP’s board ten years ago and served until 2016; Capt. David Earney of the Highway Patrol, who took Johnson’s place and resigned a year ago; Jan Skouby, formerly the state’s Department of Transportation’s director of the Motor Carriers Service division; and Scott Marion, who now has Skouby’s former job.

The legality of these individuals serving on the HELP board is not in question. Missouri paid membership dues to HELP. But as Galloway said in a prepared statement released in conjunction with the report, "In this case, there are clear indications of close working relationships that led to preferential treatment and conflicts of interest. That is no way for the State of Missouri to conduct business." She also said she had turned her findings over to law enforcement.

The HELP system for weight determination uses installed transponders. The Galloway report said Drivewyze uses cellular technology to communicate with a truck. The Drivewyze system, as well as HELP’s PrePass WIM product, was part of a pilot program that begin in 2014 and was cancelled in August 2016.

Drivewyze is the name of the system of a parent company named Intelligent Imaging Systems. Even though it had its pilot cancelled in August 2016, it is now operating in Missouri under an RFP that was issued soon after the cancellation, after the state’s DOT “determined there was sufficient evidence Drivewyze could provide the same services as HELP,” according to the report. Both HELP and Drivewyze are operating in the state under a three-year contract that began in February of this year.

The report details a relationship between several officials identified by Galloway and Drivewyze that indicates they found almost nothing acceptable about the Drivewyze system. In one email message, Johnson refers to himself as “the PrePass guy.”  

In an email to a Drivewyze executive, near the end of the first pilot program, Marion wrote: "I guess I should risk being blunt, but Drivewyze has been notified of the August 15 (2016) cancellation date of the pilot MOU. This fact has been reiterated on more than one occasion by both MoDOT and MSHP. As far as we're concerned that decision is final. At this point, there will be no current or future MOU. At the risk of being too blunt again, we feel like we've had 2 years of unfulfilled promises, expectations and performance from Drivewyze.”

In another documented potential conflict of interests in the auditor’s findings, the report notes that Major Greg Kindle of the Highway Patrol—who was not a HELP board member--sent a resume from his state email account to HELP about a job opening in Arizona. “Major Kindle continued corresponding with HELP regarding the firm's business in Missouri and took no steps to formally notify in writing his employer of a possible conflict,” the report said. Kindle ultimately was hired by HELP as a regional director, but his area of coverage does not include Missouri, so he did not run into regulations prohibiting state employees from one-year dealings with a department that the former state employee had formerly worked for.

That is not the case with Johnson. After his retirement in March 2017, Johnson signed an agreement as a consultant with HELP. In an email obtained by the auditor’s office, Karen Rasmussen, the CEO of HELP, told HELP’s board of directors that the work being done by Johnson would not be connected to his former roles with the state and would be on other issues. But as the Galloway report notes, “both

Skouby (who retired in 2013) and Johnson have had business related communications with state employees involved in Missouri's commercial vehicle preclearance and bypass system since their retirement, which represents a conflict of interest and contradicts Rasmussen's statement and HELP's conflict of interest standards.” A series of dates with relevant emails is noted in the report, including several by Skouby that “show Skouby had further influence on Missouri's commercial vehicle preclearance and bypass system.”

According to columnist Tony Messenger of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, who first wrote about the HELP-Drivewyze issue a year ago, Galloway last week dropped HELP as a client from his consulting firm.

The attempts by some of the identified state officials to assist HELP in having its system adopted in other states can be summed up in one email series written by Marion to several people from HELP soon after a communications launch about HELP in Missouri. “Next project: getting Minnesota on board!" wrote Marion. Rasmussen, who later became Marion’s private sector CEO by saying: “We very much appreciate having the opportunity to participate and to support our ace HELP board member from Missouri! Are you free for a call tomorrow to discuss Minnesota?" As the Galloway report said: “Marion responded that he is available.”