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Council finally approves anti-Patriot resolution

Friday, September 26, 2003 by

Three abstain after listening to hours of citizen input

Last night the Council heard more than three hours of impassioned testimony about constitutional rights and the detrimental impact of the federal USA Patriot Act on those rights before voting 4-0-3 to approve a resolution reflecting their opposition to the legislation. Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman was the driving force behind putting the Council on record as opposing the act and Council Member Daryl Slusher contributed his writing skills to improve upon a resolution being adopted in jurisdictions around the country. Council Members Danny Thomas and Raul Alvarez co-sponsored the resolution.

Mayor Will Wynn and Council Members Brewster McCracken and Betty Dunkerley explained why they would be abstaining on the vote. For each one of them, the matter seemed too remote from their authority and duties as a member of the Austin City Council. The crowd—and the Council majority—were respectful of those abstaining, although Goodman and Thomas expressed disappointment that they could not convince their colleagues to join them. Wynn made a point of saying that the resolution was not ill-considered or done in haste. “It was a thoughtful process,” he said, complimenting Goodman and Slusher for their diligence.

Council selects new contractor for electrical construction

Thomas wants careful watch on use of minority sub-contractors

The City Council voted unanimously Thursday to approve a new contract with Pike Electric, Inc. for construction and maintenance services to Austin Energy’s transmission and distribution system. Pike won the contract in spite of arguments from representatives of Red Simpson, Inc (RSI)—which holds the current contract for such work—that RSI would provide a higher level of minority participation. Pike came in with the low bid: $5.4 million per year for three years, plus the possibility that the contract will be extended. Simpson came in fourth, asking $5.88 million. But the discussion did not revolve around price. Swirling just beneath the surface were allegations that RSI has not fulfilled its promises to minority subcontractors during the five years it has held the contract.

RSI’s attorney, Jeff Friedman, asked the Council to throw out all the bids and start over on the contract, asserting that his client would do a much better job in employing minority and women contractors. “In 1998, Red Simpson Inc. was the contractor for Austin Energy . . . we came to the Council arguing the same points we’re arguing today. Under the MBE-WBE requirements, Pike is wholly deficient and we believe intentionally deficient in not availing themselves of local minority and women-owned enterprises. If you look at the bids submitted by Pike, they have the apparent worst record of dealing with minority and women-owned enterprises. Their claim to fame was that they contacted everybody they wanted to contact. The issue that this Council has to address again is whether contacting is sufficient, as opposed to contracting.” Friedman noted that his client’s bid included “over 34 percent minority and women-owned enterprises . . . Pike is down around six. What that means is, in our opinion, the lowest responsive and best bid” is RSI

The minority contracting issue was very much on the mind of Council Member Danny Thomas, who made the motion to grant the contract to Pike. After the vote, he told In Fact Daily, “In this case there has been some questions about safety and some names used,” to get contracts. One of those names was that of Cloteal Haynes-Davis, who watched the Council discussion of the item with some satisfaction. She said five years ago when Simpson got the contract that the company told her—as well as the city—she had been selected as a subcontractor. In fact, she said, she believed she had a contract until some time after Simpson was named prime contractor. At an Electric Utility Commission hearing earlier this month, several contractors reported similar experiences with RSI. (See In Fact Daily, September 17, 2003.)

Thomas said he believes the issue of funds for minority and women sub-contractors “needs to be monitored closely. The MBE/WBE is very important to every member of this Council. I am going to address the City Manager first—to allow her to do what she’s supposed to do.”

In documents acquired from AE under the Texas Open Records Act, it appears that RSI paid large sums to some contractors, but little or nothing to others. The company’s MBE goal was 24.8 percent and its goal for women-owned business participation was 9.56 percent. During the first year of the contract, the company reported payments to minority subcontractors totaling $471,442—about 16.6 percent—and $779,771 to WBEs for 27.4 percent.

In 1998, when RSI won the contract, the company told the City of Austin it would award subcontracts to eight minority-owned businesses (MBEs) and six women-owned businesses (WBEs). During the first year of the contract, Simpson failed to pay three of the MBEs at all and the MBE with the largest contract, Kirkwood & Hunter, received less than a third of what had initially been promised.

During the second year of the contract, which runs from November to October, .the company reported spending about 15.2 percent of its funding on MBE contractors and 16 percent on WBEs. However, in the third year of the contract, the latest one for which final figures are available, RSI had expanded minority participation to nearly 25 percent, or more than $1.25 million. Women-owned businesses received about 16 percent, the company reported. An important factor in that change, however, was the reclassification of Craft Staffing by Covington, a manpower provider, from WBE to MBE.

As a female-owned business, Craft Staffing received more than $634,000 during the first year—giving RSI more than 80 percent of its WBE requirement. During the third year, Craft Staffing provided about 59 percent of the company’s MBE total. Also, several contractors were dropped and others added.

Fuentes Construction Company was added in January 2001. The company, owned by Frank Fuentes—a well-known figure around City Hall—received the second-largest initial award of all the minority and women-owned businesses. Fuentes got $671,985 for the contract year beginning in November 2000. That was 134 percent of the contract amount. According to AE records, Fuentes was paid $461,550 during the year running through October 2002. But by July of this year—the most recent figures available—Fuentes Construction had been paid less than $29,000 or 5.71 percent of the contract for the current year. Fuentes and others have been under investigation for the past year in connection with alleged irregularities in unrelated contracts.

CEO Eric Pike explained to the Council yesterday how his company lost the bid to RSI in 1998—after RSI successfully argued that there was insufficient minority business participation and all bids should be discarded. When the Council did just that, RSI won the second round. “This time we have gone through what the city has told us was an exemplary attempt to contact (minority subs),” he noted. The city also won two appeals on the decision to hire Pike before a hearing examiner. Simpson had appealed based on minority participation and another company said it had made mathematical errors that caused its bid to come in higher than Pike’s.

Pike said his company’s contract would begin in November. In the meantime, Pike will be setting up an Austin office and hiring approximately 60 workers to do repairs and new construction on electric lines. The subcontractors, he said, “will primarily do the work on the non-energized portions of the work.” That includes hauling and replacing poles, as well as work on street light poles and other work that does not involve live electric lines.

Contract to study bridge extension put on hold

The City Council delayed action on selecting a new engineering firm to study extending the Plfuger Pedestrian Bridge. The architect who designed the bridge, which crosses Town Lake next to the Lamar Bridge, is not part of the group selected to continue work on the project, which Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman said was cause for concern.

“It seems like there’s going to be a separation and no continuity of the original thought and vision,” she said. “Previously, what we have sometimes done is had sort of a side consultant slot where we kept the original designer as part of the ongoing project, even if they’re not a part of the project team that’s building it.”

The firm that received the highest score on the professional services evaluation matrix, HDR Engineering of Austin, did not list architect Girard Kinney as one of its consultants or sub-contractors. Kinney designed plans for the existing bridge, which includes an option to extend the structure toward either the northeast or northwest in order to provide pedestrian crossings for Cesar Chavez, Sandra Muriada, and Union Pacific railroad tracks. Funding for that extension was more than the city had available at the time of the original construction. The contract for the engineering firm to study various options for extending the bridge would be $322,000.

City staff told the Mayor Pro Tem that there was no stipulation in the Request for Qualifications that the original architect be included. “We have spoken with the previous architect,” said Sondra Creighton of the new director of the Public Works Department. “He certainly is free to go to whoever is selected by Council and offer those services. The selection process doesn’t allow us to actually determine who the team members are of the prime consultant.” Assistant City Attorney Marty Terry advised the submission by HDR Engineering was in order. “This particular selection process was done in accordance with the selection criteria and rules that govern a professional services contract. This one is ready to go. This team has been selected in accordance with the city’s rules and regulations,” she said.

Goodman requested the staff to seek a way to make sure the original architect was included since his insight and knowledge would benefit the overall project. Staff will take the next two weeks to work on an separate contract and provide details of the financial impact to the Council. The item will be re-posted for the October 9th agenda.

©2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved

Task force appointed . . . Yesterday, the Council appointed Zoning and Platting Commissioners Betty Baker, Joseph Martinez, Clarke Hammond, Keith Jackson and John Donisi, to serve on the new task force looking at the ramifications of the city’s historic zoning policies and ordinances. Jim Christianson, a former chair of the Historic Landmark Commission (HLC) and attorney Jerry Harris will bring the task force to seven. Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman said Allan Minter would be the alternate if Jerry Harris can’t do it.. Council Member Betty Dunkerley, who sponsored creation of the task force, told In Fact Daily, one of the motivatinging forces behind her idea to create the task force has been the inconsistent application of the historic landmark criteria between staff, the HLC and the City Council. Dunkerley says she also wants the task force to look at the question of tax abatements, since the current ordinance grants 100 percent abatements on all properties designated historic on a permanent basis. She said she does not want to abolish the abatements, but perhaps limit the 100 percent abatement to the first five years after a property has been declared historic. After that, she said, perhaps the abatement could fall to 50 percent. “One hundred percent forever is a little too rich,” she said . . .

Fernandez is back . . . East Austin activist Gavino Fernandez made his first appearance before the Austin City Council since being released on bond following his arrest this May. “I would like to take this time to publicly thank the many people who support and have continued to support me during the most cloudiest day of my career,” he said during citizens’ communications . . .

Honorees . . . Three long-time members of the city staff were honored Thursday evening for their years of service. Marsha Wehmeyer, Tracy Watson, and Peter Rieck, are all retiring with a total of more than 60 years amongst them. Rieck, the city’s out-going Director of Public Works, offered a tribute to the men and women of his department. “I think a lot of people don’t realize that like all other city employees, we are on call 24-7,” he said. “We are there for our citizens…so I want to thank all of the employees in Public Works for all the work they do, rain or shine…they are there for you” . . .

. . . Lydia Ortiz, chair of the Planning Commission, was reappointed by Council Member Raul Alvarez. John Allman was appointed and Floyd Davis was reappointed to the Airport Advisory Commission. Council Member Betty Dunkerley reappointed Adan Martinez to the Resource Management Commission . . .

Groom honored . . . Council Member Raul Alvarez, who is getting married on Saturday, was honored by his Council colleagues as they declared yesterday Raul Alvarez Day. Alvarez will wed Theresa Michalak. The pair will honeymoon in Puerto Rico next week. Congratulations to both of them. .

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