CATS CEO speaks to Channel 9 about Blue Line Extension delays

By: Paul Boyd

Updated:

Channel 9 has been investigating the Blue Line Extension since it was announced in February the project was significantly delayed.

Whistleblower 9 investigator Paul Boyd obtained hundreds of public records from the Charlotte Area Transit System and invited CATS CEO John Lewis to discuss those records.

(Watch Paul Boyd's report below)

He agreed, but only if we agreed to interview him on live TV. Boyd talked to Lewis live on Channel 9. 

[WATCH THE FULL INTERVIEW HERE]

When Charlotte's $1.6 billion Blue Line Extension was delayed in February officials blamed construction problems.

After a multi-month investigation, Boyd asked Lewis why there was no communication about construction delays on his email account.

“There probably isn't a whole lot of record in my emails on that regard," Lewis said.

"There's none about the construction coordination challenges and if it was a problem you would think that would have come across your desk? It just seems unusual,” Boyd said.

"I understand, but as I've mentioned, we have a fantastic staff of engineers and professionals who are making the vast majority of those decisions,” Lewis said. “I get involved when there's a problem as there was, when this, and I had a face to face meeting with the international CEO of Balfour-Beatty.”

Balfour-Beatty is the lead contractor on the Blue Line Extension.

Records show they received a $10 million contract amendment after the private meeting.

“Did you discuss the $10 million payment that day?” Boyd asked.

“Absolutely not,” Lewis said.

But we don't know exactly what they discussed because there's no public record.

“That documentation, for $10 million taxpayer dollars, apparently didn't come across your desk?” Boyd asked.

“(It) didn't come across my desk because it was normal bill pay,” Lewis said.

“A $10 million payment is normal?” Boyd asked.

“This is a billion dollar project,” Lewis said.

“I get that,” Boyd said.

“We have paid lots of invoices,” Lewis said.

“But you approve every single extension. And there's no paper trail that you've provided us showing that?” Boyd asked.

“The City Council approves every amendment, every transaction,” Lewis said.

“Based on your recommendation?” Boyd asked.

“Based on our recommendation,” Lewis said.

Channel 9 also learned that the lead contractor had completed the majority of the construction work by February.

And internal documents show it was CATS that was not on schedule to open on time.

“You don't think you misled the public?” Boyd asked.

“Not at all,” Lewis said.

There was also a text message in Channel 9’s public records request between the CATS CEO and his top deputy who "left a voicemail" about Balfour-Beatty on Lewis' cellphone.

“Do you still have that voicemail?” Boyd asked.

“Uh. No. They're voicemails,” Lewis said.

“You understand that voicemails are a public record though?” Boyd asked.

“Uh. I don't believe so,” Lewis said.

But state law says voicemails are public record.

And the city's own policy also explains voicemails about city business are public record.

“I listen to voicemails, get the relevant information and they are deleted,” Lewis said.

“But you're supposed to retain that public record sir,” Boyd said.

“I don't believe they are a public record,” Lewis said.

And because the messages have been deleted, we'll never know what was discussed.

Our interview ended with an update on when the project would open.

“March of 2018. We're going to be on time, on budget and this is going to be another fantastic project for the Charlotte region,” Lewis said. 

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