Lucky Larry, MSD’s $6 Million Man

Larry Zielke, MSD's lawyer

It’s a nice gig, if you can get it.

Really, there’s no reasonable explanation for the fact the MSD has paid its attorney at least $5.9 million in five years, or for MSD’s paying Larry Zielke $1.09 million for no-bid bond contracting work. It’s just the way of doing business at MSD, and now that auditors are snooping around, the “that’s the way we’ve always done it” mentality is getting the scrutiny it deserves.

The latest story by the C-J’s James Bruggers outlines another unethical practice carried on for years by MSD — hiring attorneys to do bond work without competitive bidding. Now, you might be tempted to forgive the powers that be at MSD, if not for the fact that Bruggers showed ample evidence of state government hiring attorneys for the same type of work and paying thousands of dollars more, because they don’t just hand off all the work to the same attorney.

The bad news for taxpayers is there’s no way to get all that money back. The good news is that the upcoming audit from Crit Luallen will expose the bad guys, and could/should prompt personnel changes on MSD’s board and personnel. At the very least, it should insist that MSD get rid of Zielke.

Of course, changes should have been instituted in 2008, when an internal audit showed the firm “lacked adequate corporate records, did not keep time sheets for billing and payroll, and in some cases charged the rate of a partner for work done by an associate,” according to a C-J story earlier this month, after the paper discovered the existence of the three-year-0ld audit.  It’s apparent that no action was taken as a result of that audit, despite its warning that MSD had given Zielke “too much trust and authority.” Not to mention money.

Of course, Zielke refused to talk to Bruggers about the story, but you can bet he was in on the carefully-worded defense of the practices, released in written form by MSD engineer Brian Bingham:  “The MSD board chooses … to maintain a long-term relationship with our co-bond counsel and our financial adviser, who have years of working together as a team to produce excellent financial results for our customers. The same results would not have been possible if MSD replaced its bond counsel each time another law firm submitted an artificially low bid to do the work, but then needed years to learn what the existing bond team already knows about MSD.”

That one’s not flying with the general public, and Larry’s luck is about to run out.