. . . In emails throughout the months leading up to the resignation, Browning expressed frustration about private contractors and consultants hiring away INDOT employees, sometimes referred to as “poaching.”
On April 15, a week before the resignation, Browning exchanged emails with Beth Bauer, executive director of ACEC Indiana, a trade association representing professional consulting engineers.
“I think you should formally address my contention that your members who are indulging in this practice are damaging their client’s business and in violation of ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers) ethics,” wrote Browning.
When asked about the email exchange, Bauer said Browning was considering adopting a new policy that would prohibit INDOT employees hired by consulting engineering firms from working on INDOT projects for up to 2 years.
“No such policy was ever implemented,” said Will Wingfield, spokesperson for INDOT, on September 9.
Bauer said there were some concerns about enforcing such a policy.
“There’s a lot of reasons why someone leaves a position,” said Bauer.
Other emails also illustrate the frustration with INDOT employees leaving, including an April 10 email from Kim Pearson, INDOT Commissioner of Human Resources, to Browning that said the agency needs to “stop the leak” and revamp its exit interview procedure to “capture the right data.”
Notes from a March 23 meeting show other INDOT staff were concerned about consulting firms “poaching” INDOT staff, and warned that such behavior was unacceptable.
Emails from March 24 and April 2 listed names of at least 19 INDOT employees who left to go to firms such as RQAW, Primera, HW Lochner, and [American] Structurepoint . . .A key fact missing from Kenney's report was the possible role a factually incorrect item radio talk show host Abdul-Hakim Shabazz, who is also a political contributor to WRTV, wrote in his Cheat Sheet, a paid subscriber newsletter he touts as "gossip, rumor and innuendo." Two days before Browning's abrupt resignation, Shabazz wrote the following item with the heading "INDOT Wants to Close Exit Ramp," based on a tip he received:
We're hearing that the folks over at INDOT are getting really worried about their engineers leaving for the private sector and going to work for better pay somewhere else. We had several reliable sources tell us yesterday that INDOT is implementing a new rule saying that if a company tries to recruit an INDOT employee/engineer that they will get blacklisted from doing business with the agency until the next administration takes over.
TCS is told this new rule would not only impact about 1000 skilled engineers, but also has been applied retroactively to a couple of Hamilton County firms. Keep an eye on this one.Shabazz' Cheat Sheet item clearly misstated the proposed rule, which would not have barred the firms from doing business with INDOT; rather, it would have barred the former employee, not the firm, from doing work on an INDOT project for that two-year cooling off period while employed by the contractor and not until the next administration takes over as misrepresented by Shabazz. He also claims without substantiation that two Hamilton County engineering firms had already been barred from doing business with INDOT, a claim not borne out by Browning's e-mails produced to WRTV in response to a public records request. Shabazz doubled-down on his misrepresentation after Browning's resignation was announced two days later.
Governor Mike Pence announced today that INDOT Commissioner Karl Browning has resigned and named named Brandye Hendrickson as his replacement. Hendrickson has served as Deputy Commissioner for the Indiana Department of Transportation, specifically overseeing the agency’s Greenfield District Operations which encompasses East Central Indiana, including Indianapolis.
The Governor’s news release did not specify as to why Browning resigned. However we reported in Monday’s “Cheat Sheet” that Browning was reportedly said to have been developing a policy that was tantamount to blacklisting contractors who hired away INDOT engineers.Shabazz' false reporting in the Cheat Sheet had definitely been circulating around the State House before Browning abruptly resigned. Among the e-mails produced to Kenney was an e-mail dated April 21, one day before Browning's resignation, from Indiana Finance Authority CFO Dan Huge to Browning forwarding the high-lighted item that appeared in Shabazz' rag.
If Pence did in fact oust Browning because he was trying to make attempts to clean up the agency to the detriment of INDOT contractors, that's a very disturbing revelation. The agency had been the subject of numerous news reports of ethical lapses by top officials, along with the revolving door problem that has been plaguing the agency. It was in need of a good house-cleaning to restore public confidence in the agency.
When the agency's former chief of staff, Troy Woodruff, couldn't get a waiver of the state's weak one-year cooling off period to accept employment at RQAW, he simply skirted the law by going to work for the firm as an independent contractor. RQAW was involved in one of the rare instances where an engineering firm got barred from performing work for INDOT because of shoddy work it performed on a couple of bridges up in Lake County. Interestingly, Woodruff had voted to reinstate RQAW's right to do business with INDOT not long before he accepted a job with the company, a fact overlooked by other media stories that focused on his other ethical lapses while employed at INDOT.
RQAW was identified as poaching three INDOT engineers in a March 22, 2015 e-mail Robert Tally prepared for Browning detailing 16 former engineering employees who resigned their state jobs to go to work for the agency's contractors in response to Browning's request for that information. Some suspect that another former INDOT administrative employee who recently went to work for RQAW was responsible for the leaked information about the proposed policy inaccurately reported by Shabazz.