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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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Shea on defensive as conflicting information surfaces on city contracts
Austin Mayoral candidate Brigid Shea found herself in explanation mode on Thursday after a report surfaced that detailed more than $500,000 in contract work she’d done in conjunction with a host of City of Austin water projects. Included in the post, which appeared on the Burnt Orange Report web site under Karl-Thomas Musselman’s byline, was information showing that Shea had participated in one of the construction bids for Water Treatment Plant 4, despite her current opposition to the project.
As the web site pointed out, Mayor Lee Leffingwell asked Shea at the RECA Forum this week how much money she has received in city contracts since leaving the Council in 1996. Shea replied, “about $40,000 a year.” The implication in the story was that Shea had not been truthful about her involvement with the treatment plant.
Thursday evening, Shea fired back with an email. It included five specific refutations of the Burnt Orange Report item. “KT Musselman has seriously misrepresented the facts on WTP-4, to the point of deliberate distortion. The 2002 contract proposal he lists was a preliminary engineering site assessment and engineering feasibility study, not the enormously expensive contract for the final version of the plant that is being built now,” she wrote.
Still, in an interview with In Fact Daily, Shea admitted to having worked with one of the many parties interested in constructing WTP4. Shea’s job would have involved “communication and public relations” according to city documents related to the bid of the alternate contractor on the project, CH2MHill.
“In 2001, the city reached its highest water use ever,” she said. “People here still thought we might need this plant.”
Shea told Austin Neighborhoods Council that construction of WTP4 should have been delayed “until we were absolutely sure we required the additional capacity.” She argues that it became clear after 2001 that the plant was not needed. Shea adds that she received and rejected two offers from local engineering firm CAS Engineering to participate on the current iteration of the water treatment plant.
She told In Fact Daily that that group was the only one “urging the city to pursue sites away from West Travis County.” Shea suggested that, though the team hadn’t settled on a location, they would have looked in a more easterly direction for a plant site. After the failure of the CH2M Hill proposal, the city briefly entertained the idea of siting a plant at Roy G. Guerrero Park in East Austin. East side activists opposed this plan.
Shea began her challenge to incumbent mayor Lee Leffingwell for his seat in early February. She previously served one term as an Austin City Council Member from 1993 through 1996 after made her political career on environmental and clean water advocacy. One of the founders of the Save Our Springs alliance, Shea’s relationship with local developers was famously testy.
When asked for a comment, Leffingwell campaign consultant Mark Littlefield wondered about the Water Treatment Plant 4 disconnect. “Perhaps there’s something I don’t know, but it appears to me that Brigid the city contractor had a very different view of WTP4 than Brigid the mayoral candidate,” he told In Fact Daily via email. “I’m having a hard time reconciling her past actions with her current position on the plant, which I know is a fundamental issue for a lot of her supporters.”
According to documents obtained by In Fact Daily and the Austin Chronicle, Shea also spent time as a consultant for the Lower Colorado River Authority from 2002-2005. Her firm earned more than $126,000 for the effort.
In a 2002 memo to then-LCRA Executive Manager for Water Services Paul Thornhill, Shea offered what was titled an “Environmental Leadership Consulting Proposal.”
“Central Texas will see some of the most significant growth in the nation over the next ten to twenty years, according to state and national demographic analyses. Two of the main drivers of growth are the I-35 corridor and the Colorado River,” she wrote.
“The LCRA is uniquely positioned to have a positive impact on how that growth occurs and must respond to protect its own interests,” Shea continued. “Without clear and sustained leadership on this issue the regional consequences for LCRA are severe:
declining water reserves, degraded water quality and sedimentation of flood control reservoirs, as well as a decline in political effectiveness. It is imperative that LCRA create. disseminate and support a practical vision for sustainable growth in Central Texas and the Colorado watershed.”
Shea then offered the organization a list of four goals. They were “establish LCRA as a genuine environmental leader”; “improve relationships with local community and environmental groups; “(p)rovide needed technical assistance on growth management”; and “avoid costly legal battles and community unrest over growth issues or LCRA’s activities.”
Last night, Shea told In Fact Daily that she took the position after some deliberation. When asked about the goal to “avoid costly legal battles,” she replied that she signed on with the organization to get it “to do the right thing so they don’t get caught up in legal battles if they do the wrong thing.”
She added that she left the organization after it decided to move forward with the construction of infrastructure that helped bring development to northern Hays County.
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