Gray is supposedly a full-time firefighter with the Indianapolis Fire Department, but the demands of the job weren't enough to keep him from founding Mid Region Concrete, LLC in 2004. According to the Star story, much of the company's work consists of work it is performing as a minority subcontractor on various public works projects for Trotter Construction. Based on the record revealed in a large number of lawsuits and judgments entered against the company, its work is less than satisfactory. Oddly, the city's chief legal counsel Kobi Wright agrees with Gray that he wasn't required by ethics rules to disclose his interest in the concrete company. O'Shaughnessy writes:
Neither Gray nor Kobi Wright, the secretary of the city-county ethics board and the city's lead attorney, said he believed that it was necessary for Gray to disclose his relationship with Trotter.
Gray said he likely will disclose on ethics forms due in May another business relationship: Mid Region's work last summer for a company that manages maintenance of city sewers.
During four terms on the council, Gray has been employed by the Indianapolis Fire Department and today is a division chief. It was only in July 2004 that he started Mid Region Concrete, capitalizing, he says, on an interest in construction that started with a job in high school. H said thee idea for the company came from a friend and business associate, James P. Black, who by then already had his own history of financial problems . . .
"You have to understand there's a friendship there with Trotter and Jim Black," Gray said.
"This is a small city, and all the black people that's doing anything know one another." Black has owned at least a half-dozen other concrete companies since 1986, and either he or his companies owe more than $400,000 in state taxes, federal tax liens and civil judgments, according to Black's 2005 bankruptcy disclosure and a review of lawsuits naming Black or one of his companies as defendants.
Gray, 63, said he knew Black had had problems with previous businesses, but the idea was for Gray to bring his good credit to the company while Black would run the business.
"He said his personal credit rating wasn't something we could build a company on," Gray said. "I guess that was bad judgment on my part. It was one of those mistakes where friendship overruled judgment."
Wright begrudgingly admits, however, Gray should have disclosed his interest in worked performed by Gray's company for the city's wastewater system. O'Shaughnessy writes, "Wright said Gray, however, probably should disclose his company's work for United Water, a multinational company that has managed the city's wastewater treatment system since 1994 through a public-private entity called the White River Environmental Partnership."
Yet another troubling aspect reported in this story about Gray's failure to disclose his interest in the concrete company is the fact that his business employs city-county council attorney Aaron Haith to defend the claims against his business. Haith is also defending another city-county councilor, Ron Gibson, on charges Gibson committed assault on a police officer last summer during Black Expo. This raises serious ethical questions about Haith's ability to serve as attorney for the full city-county council at the same time he is enmeshed in criminal and civil litigation on behalf of individual members of the council. The likelihood of a clash in those dual roles is troubling to say the least.
True to form, Gray is pleading ignorance to the work Trotter performs for the city. O'Shaughnessy writes, "Gray rejects any notion that he broke the city's conflict-of-interest disclosure rules, saying not only did his business have nothing to do with Trotter's sewer work for the city, but he didn't know Trotter had any contract with the city." O'Shaughnessy adds that, while Gray does not personally award public works contracts, he makes appointments to the city's public works board which does award those contracts.
O'Shaughnessy makes no mention of Gray's similar reluctance to disclose his wife's interest in the 300 East bar in the Julia Carson Government Center. Star political writer Matt Tully had a difficult time dragging that out of Gray only after he initially misled him. The bar had to obtain a zoning variance from the Metropolitan Development Commission and the Marion County Alcoholic Beverage Board, to which the council appoints members of both. The MDC hearing officer who approved the bar's petition, Judith Conley, is the wife of City-County Counselor Lonnell Conley, a close friend and ally of Gray's.
The Star story focuses on Gray's claim on his economic interest statement that he received no "compensation from any business entity which, to the best of your knowledge, is doing . . . business with an agency of the City of Indianapolis or Marion County during your term of office or employment with an agency of the City of Indianapolis or Marion County." Gray doesn't even answer the following question: "Do you, your spouse or your minor children own stocks, bonds or other investments which represent ownership of 5 percent (5%) or more of a business entity or have a value in excess of $5,000 and which business entity, to the best of your knowledge, is doing or contemplates doing business with an agency of the City of Indianapolis or Marion County." Also, Gray's ethics statement discloses the city-county council as his employer, but it makes no mention of the fire department where he's employed full-time.
So what should happen to Gray? If he's treated like an ordinary government employee, he, at a minimum, should be suspended from his job as a firefighter for a period of time. More appropriately, he should be fired. He should also be investigated by the prosecutor's office for possible ghost employment and violating the state's conflict-of-interest rules, both of which are felony offenses. He should be forced by his fellow city-county council Democrats to give up his role as the council president. Don't bet on this happening. After Ron Gibson was charged with criminally assaulting a police officer last summer, most of his Democratic colleagues on the council conducted a press conference outside the city-county building to demonstrate their support of Gibson.