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Hays approves ethics changes for contractors

Friday, April 17, 2009 by Jacob Cottingham

Hays County Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved an outline resolution that could bar some companies from working with the county for up to five years. The motion, introduced by Pct. 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton, comes on the heels of their decision to end negotiations with KBR for a services and engineering contract. The former Halliburton subsidy had come under fire from local veterans and citizens for its alleged poor workmanship and questionable ethics in Iraq.

 

Barton’s self-styled “Ethics Begins At Home” resolution would mandate that the county consider corporate ethics when hiring contractors. He pointed to corporate bank fraud, recent scandals at the Pedernales Electric Cooperative and the well-publicized bribery conviction of former KBR President Jack Albert as reasons to be more aware of who the county is doing business with.

 

The commissioner said the resolution would give a “competitive edge to companies who are doing the right thing.”

 

The resolution directed District Attorney Sherri Tibbe and her chief of the civil division, Mark Kennedy, along with the purchasing director Cindy Maiorka, to prepare policy for the court and examine five areas of interest.

 

The proposed resolution would prohibit the county from working with firms that “have in their employ chief executive officers, corporate officers… or other key personnel that have been found guilty of felonies or crimes of moral turpitude in the past five years.” He said such crimes would include crimes such as fraud and crimes committed in the scope of work. “Someone may have a misdemeanor DWI and is a project manager – that would not apply,” said Barton.

 

The resolution would require companies to inform the county of any ongoing investigations or convictions of key individuals, subsidiaries or parent companies. He made note that “a firm is not prohibited from doing work for Hays County because of convictions against a ‘sister’ company that may be owned by the same corporate entity but has a wholly separate governing structure.” The disclosure requirement would also be required if “the firm or key personnel,” had judgments against them in a federal or state court in Texas for violation of statutes concerning racial, sexual or equal opportunity laws within the past two years. Barton said such disclosure requirements, “would not put additional burden on our staff because it would call on those companies to disclose any ethical issues or past conduct… failure to disclose would potentially be a criminal act and at least a violation of the contract.”

 

The resolution included “the right to consider and terminate,” those who may have the kind of ethical violations Barton described or who may be indicted or convicted during the work phase. “It doesn’t mean we will, but it gives us the right,” he said.

 

Barton proposed two exceptions to the rules. The commissioners court could overrule the standards if it decided that the company provided services “not readily available elsewhere and it was critically important to the citizens of Hays County.” The second exception was if Hays Commissioners decided that the company had addressed the circumstances that lead to a conviction or had other “extenuating circumstances.” Barton gave the example of a company convicted of a crime, but the company “came forward on its own and made financial amends or took other actions to make it clear that this was not something the company tolerated.”

 

Judge Liz Sumter suggested broadening the ethics policies of the county to “coincide” with the resolution. The county currently has a code of ethics and background checks amongst other policies. Pct. 4 Commissioner Karen Ford called it a “timely and appreciated action,” and commented on the amount of emails she had received about KBR.

 

Pct. 1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe praised Barton’s work and said she looked forward to hearing from the committee. Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley likewise thanked and applauded Barton’s efforts. He said his concerns revolved around what the legal staff would ultimately say. “I want us to set a high standard but at the same time I want us to be realistic of what we can accomplish,” he said.

 

The staff committee will return in the next 60 days with final legal language for the resolution.

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