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Council rejects contract award to contractor who used racial slur

Friday, June 15, 2018 by Caleb Pritchard

City Council on Thursday used a contractor’s use of a racial slur as an reason to reject his company’s bid to repair two intersections along East Seventh Street.

The Austin Monitor first reported that Aaron Cabaza of Aaron Concrete referred to construction workers as “wetbacks” at a Travis County-sponsored meeting in May. Soon after that story published, Cabaza, who is Latino himself, issued an apology for using the derogatory epithet for immigrants from Latin America.

Aaron Concrete was one of two firms that put in bids to replace brick pavers at East Seventh Street and Chicon and Calles streets. The city originally installed the pavers during a 2011 makeover of the corridor. They were determined to be defective not long after.

The Public Works Department is proposing to replace the pavers with concrete colored to mimic their appearance.

Aaron Concrete had offered to do the work for $325,000, a bid that came in lower than the estimate quoted by Muniz Concrete.

Because of the procurement process used, state law forces Council to choose between the lowest bid or no bids at all. A rejection would reboot the solicitation effort, Capital Contracting Officer Rolando Fernandez Jr. explained to Council on Thursday.

City Attorney Anne Morgan said that staff would have to make the same recommendation if Aaron Concrete participated in that new process and beat out other firms’ estimates.

“It’s sort of a loop situation, if they were to bid again and be the low bidder,” she said. “So that’s why it’s awkward, obviously, for the city employees in this situation.”

Council Member Ora Houston, whose District 1 includes half of one of the intersections due to be repaired, pulled the item for discussion and declared early on that she would not support awarding the contract to Aaron Concrete. She was joined by Council Member Pio Renteria, whose District 3 covers both intersections.

“I have been subject to that kind of language, and it’s very hurtful and disrespectful,” said Renteria. “And I don’t want to see our funding a business that has that kind of attitude.”

Public Works Department Assistant Director Jorge Morales pointed out that the work was scheduled to begin in July with an eye toward finishing it up in five weeks. That timing would blunt the construction’s impact on area bus service as well as on students, staff, and faculty at Huston-Tillotson University, Morales said.

Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo voiced sympathy for that timeline but indicated it wouldn’t win her support for awarding the contract to Aaron Concrete.

“I feel pretty confident that there are various other outcomes that wouldn’t land us in this loop,” Tovo said. She offered that another firm could submit a lower bid or that staff could apply a different procurement process.

Houston moved to reject the recommendation and was seconded by Council Member Delia Garza. Council passed the motion unanimously.

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