By Erick Johnson
On September 7, the Gary Crusader ran a front-page story that said the Gary Emergency Management team was in talks with Powers & Sons for a second walk-through at Roosevelt College and Career Academy’s shuttered building.
The story boosted the hopes of Roosevelt’s faithful alumni who are part of school’s storied history. Since the story was published, some called the newspaper asking when the walk-through would take place.
As it turned out, the second walk-through with one of Gary’s most trusted businesses is not going to happen.
The Crusader has learned that there were no such talks and that Powers & Sons was still waiting to hear from a district official at the time of this Crusader investigation.
During the summer, the first walk-thru at the building was held, but it did not include Power & Sons or any trusted construction firm in Gary.
At the center of the story is Eric Parish, an executive with MGT Consulting Group, which has been working with Emergency Manager Pete Morikis to reduce the Gary school district’s massive debts.
After Parish led a criticized walk-through of the shuttered Roosevelt building during the summer, alumni and residents called for a second walk-thru and assessment of the building’s repair costs with Powers & Sons, a respected and trusted construction business that has been operating for 52 years.
On August 29 during the Gary Community School Corporation Fiscal Management board meeting, Parish said he had a conversation with the firm and that the CEO, Mamon Powers, offered to do a second walk-thru.
The next week, the Crusader published the story on its front page.
For weeks, neither Parish, Morikis nor any official from the state-controlled Gary school district made any effort to contact the newspaper until a spokesperson emailed the Crusader after hearing that the newspaper was set to publish this story.
That’s when Parish said that he was never in talks with Powers & Sons for a second walk-thru.
Days after the Crusader published the story, the Crusader began receiving calls from readers who said no one called Powers & Sons about a second walk-thru. The newspaper verified the veracity of the story with the freelance reporter and Fiscal Management Board chairman Earline Rogers, a retired state senator and Roosevelt alumna.
When the Crusader sent an email asking to speak to Parish to verify his claim of having talks with Powers & Sons, the next day an email was sent to the Powers & Sons firm in a move that made Parish appear like he was covering his tracks.
That was two weeks after the August 29 meeting where Parish said he had a conversation with Powers, who, as it turned out, had no such conversation or correspondence with Parish at the time of the meeting.
When told about Powers’ statement, Parish denied saying that he was in talks with the firm.
However, when the Crusader obtained and listened to an audiotape transcript of the meeting numerous times, the newspaper staff grew disturbed after discovering that Parish said he had a conversation with Powers, which turned out to be a lie. His denial of making such a statement was also not true.
It is the latest development in a story involving MGT Consulting, which has come under criticism lately for its role in the state-controlled Gary school district, which in the past several months, has sown distrust among Roosevelt alumni and parents.
Since the building was shuttered in February, because of burst pipes, the district officials have held several meetings, but have yet to decide on whether to reopen Roosevelt’s historic.
Facing criticism after canceling community meetings, Parish led a group of officials on a walk-thru of Roosevelt. However, a videotape of the event was played at a community meeting on July 16, where many who viewed it said the recording was too dark. None of the participants on the walk-thru wore safety masks or protective gear in a building they said was unsafe and laden with asbestos.
With doubts swirling, many Roosevelt alumni and parents began demanding that a second walk-thru at Roosevelt be held with someone who is respected and trusted in the community.
Fast forward to August 29. That’s when Jackie Harris, a freelance journalist who operates the Gary 411 News, attended the Gary Community School Corporation Fiscal Management board meeting led by Chairman Rogers.
The Crusader published Harris’ story on the front page in its September 7 edition under the headline, “Powers & Sons in talks for second Roosevelt walk-thru.”
The article reported Parish as saying he was in talks with Mamon Powers, a well-respected businessman and CEO of Powers & Sons. Neither Parish nor anyone from the state-controlled Gary school district called the Crusader about any potential problems with the story. For the record, the Crusader stands by the original story and believes it accurately captured what was discussed at the meeting.
Days after the article was published, a Crusader reporter received a text message from a reader, who said no such conversation with Powers & Sons ever occurred. The Crusader then spoke to Rogers and Harris, who both verified that Parish said he was in talks with the firm to lead a second walk-thru of Roosevelt.
“That’s what he said,” Rogers told the Crusader.
After hearing that the Crusader was set to publish a story about Parish, Chelsea Whittington, a public relations consultant for the Gary School District, contacted the newspaper, saying there was a “misunderstanding” and that the state-controlled school district had reached out to several vendors, including Powers & Sons, to determine their interest in another assessment of Roosevelt’s shuttered building. Whittington didn’t mention the other vendors, but she did set up an interview with Parish.
In the telephone interview with the Crusader, Parish said he never said in the August 29 meeting that he was in talks with Powers & Sons for a second walk-through at Roosevelt.
Parish said that he meant to say that he was “considering” reaching out to Powers & Sons to do the task.
When asked if there was an audio or video tape of the meeting to verify his comments, Parish initially said, “No,” then called the reporter two hours later to say there was one and that he listened to the tape.
“I can see how that can be misunderstood,” Parish said.
The Crusader obtained a copy of the audiotape of the one-hour-and-twelve-minute meeting and listened numerous times. Fifteen minutes before the meeting ended, Gary Teachers Union President GlenEva Dunham and Rogers talked about getting Powers & Sons to do a second walk-through, as residents continue to distrust the state-controlled Gary school district.
“If we can just get somebody in there, someone people can trust to verify the dollars, we can stop talking about that and start talking about what can be done, if anything.”
“We’ll do that. We had a conversation today. Mr. Powers made the offer. I want to do the inspection part. I think an independent (sic) that seems like the next logical step. Mr. Powers is well-respected. That makes sense. We can do that.”
The Crusader asked Rogers during three separate phone calls whether she understood Parish was in talks with Powers & Sons from the statement he made at the August 29 meeting. She said, “Yes.” After the Crusader reporter listened to the audiotape, he read Parish’s comment back to her.
“I remember that conversation,” Rogers said. The Crusader then asked Rogers if she was led to believe that Parish was in talks for a second walk-thru.“Absolutely,” Rogers said.
On September 30, after being out of town for two weeks, Mamon Powers returned messages left by the Crusader, asking if his firm was in talks about a second walk-thru. He said, “At that time [of the August 29 meeting], no one had talked to me about doing a second walk-thru.”
Powers also said on September 18, Parish sent him an email asking Powers if he would consider leading a second walk-thru of Roosevelt. According to Powers, the email said that someone from the school district would contact him, but as of September 30, no one had spoken with him.
At a community meeting led by Emergency Manager Pete Morikis on August 13, Powers said that he would be “happy” to conduct a walk-thru.
Parish’s email also told Powers that someone from the school district would be contacting him shortly. At the time of this conversation on September 30, Rogers still had not received a phone call as Parish promised. Parish also asked Powers to keep the email confidential.
Parish confirmed to the Crusader that he had sent Powers the email September 18 and that this was the only communication with him before and after the August 29 meeting.
Parish said he told Powers to keep the email confidential about future assessments or estimates.
Parish’s email came one day after the Crusader emailed school district attorney Michael Tolbert to speak to Parish to verify his statement of having talks of a second walk-thru with Powers & Sons.
As it stands, while Powers is waiting to hear from the state-controlled school district, Parish said there are no plans for a second walk-thru.
So, where do things go from here?
“I don’t know,” Rogers said. “I’ll see whether or not we can set up another meeting to see what can be done to satisfy the community.”
AN EDITOR’S NOTE ABOUT THIS STORY
When the Crusader initially was made aware that Powers & Sons was not contacted for a second walk-thru, the newspaper contacted freelance reporter Jackie Harris and Fiscal Board Management Chair Earline Rogers. Rogers reaffirmed her belief that Emergency Management team member and MGT executive Eric Parish said that he was in talks with Powers & Sons for a second walk-thru at Roosevelt’s shuttered building. Harris said although she reported this in her article, she was told by Gary Teacher’s Union President GlenEva Dunham that Parish did not make that statement. That’s when the Crusader decided to obtain an audiotape of the Aug. 29 meeting. After hearing Parish say he had a conversation with CEO Mamon Powers on the audiotape, the Crusader confirmed that Harris’ original story was accurate. The Crusader is disappointed that it was not provided or made aware of an email that Harris sent Parish on September 12, saying she misquoted him. This is not the Crusader’s editorial policy in dealing with corrections, clarifications or retractions. The Crusader is also disappointed that Parish or anyone from the state-controlled district did not contact the newspaper with their concerns. The Crusader strives for accuracy and fairness in reporting stories as they happen.