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Mike Kanin is the Publisher of the Austin Monitor. As such, he doesn't report on much--aside from the workings of the Monitor--any more. In his previous life as a freelance journalist, Kanin has written for the Washington City Paper, the Washington Post's Express, the Boston Herald, Boston's Weekly Dig, the Austin Chronicle, and the Texas Observer.
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Travis Commissioners question facilities director over contract delays
Travis County Commissioners Karen Huber and Sarah Eckhardt had some hard questions Tuesday for the director of Travis County’s facilities department about two contracts associated with the renovation of the county’s new 700 Lavaca Street headquarters. At the regular meeting of the commissioners court, Huber pointedly asked Roger El Khoury about a contract to clean and paint the facility’s parking garage. She also wondered about an agreement to install glass on the outside of the building.
In the case of the former, some work hadn’t been included in the scope of services for the initial bid. For the latter, Huber wondered why it had taken the county so long to finish its purchasing.
El Khoury did his best to explain the shortcomings on the painting contract. “Sometimes in a maintenance project like this, some scope of work will be added later as a change order based on what we accomplished,” he said. “When we did the panels on the outside, when we finished everything, somebody looked at the garage…and saw that the panels were not part of the original scope.”
Huber wondered why no one had noticed the missing panels. “It’s cheaper to do these bids comprehensively then to piecemeal them like this.”
“It seems like rather obvious items,” echoed Eckhardt, who represents Precinct 2. Huber represents Precinct 3.
Huber said that the exterior of the 700 Lavaca building was the responsibility of the court —and thus the entirety of the glass bid should have been handled by the county. “This should have been bid as a unit, for the entire building back in February,” she said.
Instead, the contract for the first and second floors lingered until Tuesday. “To piecemeal it like this is an irresponsible use of taxpayer funds,” said Huber. “It costs more this way.”
El Khoury fought hard to have his department oversee the renovation when it was first discussed by the court. Though he held on to the bulk of the building’s area, the more complex work—for the basement, first, and second floors—went to a private firm (See In Fact Daily, Nov. 15, 2010).
County purchasing officer Cyd Grimes told the court that some of the problems associated with the deals stemmed from a lack of communication between the facilities department and her office on the painting deal. “Can I also add…that you request that (they) work closer with the procurement office in the planning stages, because we might have recommended that they add these additional items as add-ons,” she said. “There’s a lack of coordination between us that needs to be improved.”
Pct. 1 Commissioner Ron Davis issued a defense of El Khoury. “I don’t know what all of the hassle is up on this court when it comes to facilities,” he said. “You’ve got your way of doing things—you’ve been doing stuff for a long time, and you’ve saved this county a lot, a lot of money.”
Eckhardt stepped in. “I think that there is evidence to the contrary, commissioner,” she said.
Davis pushed on. “This hammering and hammering and hammering on facilities has got to stop, period,” he offered. “It just appears that there is some discomfort with some folks on this dais…when it comes to facilities. I think you’re doing a good job and I’ll continue to support what you’re doing. You have saved the county a lot of money. I know what I’m talking about.”
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