On Jan. 5, Bekele was called to a meeting with MTA staff members, who said the reassignment of garages couldn't be allowed. Pacific Park Management managing director Behailu Mekbib produced a printed series of e-mails as proof that a legitimate agreement had been struck, Bekele said.

Bekele was outraged. "I said, 'That was not an agreement. What took place at the meeting was an offer with a threat. So don't ever say agreement,'" he says.

The meeting, Bekele recalls, was immediately adjourned.

Singer says Bekele reneged on anhonest deal. "An agreement was made," he says. "They would go back to the MTA to ask for their blessing and approval of those agreements, so the city would not have to rebid them all. They shook hands on it. Except that Mr. Bekele is dishonest."

Unknown to Bekele, Ford seemed to have been moving to throw out the parking management bids just as Kay was privately urging him to take that very step, according to internal MTA documents released in response to a public information request by Bekele's former lawyer, Martin.

The documents suggest Kay played two games at once, urging Ford to throw out the bids, with the possibility of backing off if Bekele's group agreed to some kind of deal.

On Oct. 26, Kay wrote to Ford, complaining that the bidding won by Bekele's group was unfair. As a local company, Kay wrote, Pacific Park Management deserved special consideration; Bekele, meanwhile, had partnered with out-of-towners. Kay complained that a better-run bidding might have attracted more competitors. He argued that the way the garages were arranged into first-, second-, and third-place groups was unbalanced, and pointed to the fact that the garages won by Bekele's group pulled in 16 times the revenue of Pacific Park Management's.

He closed by urging Ford "to take the appropriate steps to rectify and redress this unjust and inequitable process and result."

That morning, Amit Kothari, the MTA's director of off-street parking, sent an e-mail to fellow staffers saying Ford had told them to arrange a meeting to discuss the parking contracts.

On Nov. 24, MTA transportation engineering director Bond Yee wrote to the board announcing that staff intended to reject the bids, saying the garages should be divided into more equitable groups, and that the agency would seek more bidders.

On Dec. 9, Kothari e-mailed his colleagues again, this time concerning plans to start the bidding process anew. "Coming up with rationales would help the agency deliver the right message to the board and public," Kothari wrote.

At a Jan. 5 board meeting, Ford recommended further postponing the contract award to give staff time to come up "with a recommendation about the best course of action to move forward with maximum participation and achieve economies of scale," echoing concerns expressed in Kay's letter.

The issue ultimately didn't come up until March 2, when, the board voted to reject the garage management bids, despite a staff recommendation that Bekele be awarded a contract, Kothari said in an interview.

But the picture painted by board members suggests they were ushered into the decision without fully understanding why.

I asked board member Cameron Beach why the board had taken this step. He recalls that the vote was taken after five hours of a seven-hour meeting. "There was some discussion about how the bid was put together," he says, but is unable to recall exactly what the objections were.

President Tom Nolan wasn't at the meeting because he was undergoing eye surgery, but says, "there were protests from people who didn't get it."

"Needless to say, we were all confused," boardmember Oka says.

Bekele has asked the city Human Rights Commission, which monitors whether city contracts are awarded fairly, to investigate the matter. Commission executive director Theresa Sparks says she began stepping up inquiries last week, after some earlier stonewalling from Ford's staff.

I hope an investigation results in a few kicked-in doors. And I'm not the only one.

"The Human Rights Commission director has subpoena power," commissioner Douglas Chan told me. "And my colleagues were interested in knowing whether that should be employed in this situation."

It's possible the commission might not have jurisdiction over the matter. If that's the case, Chan says, "I would be inclined to favor preparation of the Commission's own complaint to the U.S. Department of Transportation."

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