Fischer hired private investigator to dig into MSD director's controversies

Fischer hired private investigator to dig into MSD director's controversies
Mayor Greg Fischer at the news conference announcing the hiring of Tony Parrott. (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Mayor Greg Fischer at the news conference announcing the hiring of Tony Parrott. (Source: WAVE 3 News)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer on Wednesday revealed that he had hired a private investigator to look into controversies with a candidate for Metro Sewer District director before eventually hiring him.

Tony Parrott was introduced as MSD director Tuesday, leaving a similar job at the Greater Cincinnati Metro Sewer District. In the past year, officials there have questioned his residency - even fining him for providing falsified documents - and his management, including allegations of cost overruns and a "culture of fear" at his agency.

Fischer's office said it spent $2,000 to contract with Advanced Investigative Solutions, Inc. of Simpsonville to conduct the probe. Fischer said he personally got involved and spoke with Parrott about the controversies.

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"A simple Google search will provide some of the things you're talking about, so that's concerning," Fischer said. "Knowing that the media would look into that and citizens had a right to know, I wanted to take that next step to assure the citizens that this is a good hire."

An investigation by Cincinnati affiliate WXIX-TV revealed that Parrott provided an address on a financial disclosure form that wasn't his primary residence. In April 2014, Parrott wrote that his home address was in Cincinnati, when his primary residence was actually in Butler County, Ohio.

Cincinnati's city manager docked 40 hours of Parrott's vacation, which was equal to about $3,500, WXIX reported. Officials gave Parrott six months to move into the city and comply with a residency requirement, a demand the city council later rescinded by allowing Parrott to maintain his Butler County home.

"The recent controversy surrounding Mr. Parrott's residency is not deemed to be a material issue," Carl Christiansen, the private investigator, wrote in a June 16 report to Fischer's chief of staff.

Officials in Hamilton County, Ohio, also expressed concerns about Parrott's management, asking for "immediate intervention" in a letter to city officials. The county owns most of the sewer district, while the City of Cincinnati operates it.

"It is apparent that there are systemic management problems within MSD that have resulted in a culture of fear, poor morale, unacceptable operational results and significant financial risks to the ratepayers," Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman wrote.

Sigman did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Wednesday.

Rocky Merz, a spokesman for the Cincinnati city administrator, said there has been a longstanding conflict between the city and county regarding the region's sewer district.

Asked whether the city manager's office believed MSD's problems were more a result of Parrott's management or constant fighting between governments, Merz said the latter. County officials might give a different answer, he added.

Christiansen's memo includes references to people who worked with Parrott and speak highly of his work. Fischer blamed the controversy on a political game being played between the city and county.

"As I talked with people in Cincinnati who were in a position to know about that, that's what they told me as well," Fischer said. "It's important that you guys are going beyond the headlines and really looking into the substance on this."

Louisville Metro Council members contacted by WAVE 3 News said because Louisville doesn't have a residency requirement they weren't concerned with the residency controversy. However, the council members said they planned to look into the accusations of mismanagement.

Parrott replaces Greg Heitzman, the outgoing MSD director. He will lead an agency that has had its own trouble recently, including labor strife and an ongoing controversy over whether to buy out flood-prone homeowners.

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