Thursday, April 17, 2014

Hidalgo County approves qualifications of attorney to examine drainage contract

The Monitor
April 16, 2014
by Jacob Fisher

EDINBURG — The Hidalgo County drainage board on Tuesday sidestepped an obstacle to investigating an 8-year-old contract with the county drainage director’s corporation, circumventing the District Attorney’s Office and outlining the board’s preferred qualifications for a private attorney to work on the case.

Board members spent almost 15 minutes of a 30-minute meeting debating whether the move was necessary or prudent. In the end, after a closed-door session, they elected to approve an outline of qualifications. The move stopped short of committing the board to actually hire an attorney.
“We just want to make sure that everything was done with respect to what was agreed upon,” Precinct 4 Commissioner Joseph Palacios said in a Wednesday interview.
Last month, the board assigned civil attorneys in the DA’s Office looked into the matter, but reported late last week to County Judge Ramon Garcia that they saw a potential conflict of interest if they continued to investigate and asked to be taken off the case.
“Initially, we wanted to use in-house counsel,” Palacios said. But both the DA’s office and the Atlas and Hall law firm — the firm that advises the county and signed off on the 2006 contract — had potential conflicts of interest.
“So the only option based on the water code that we have is to go through a bidding process,” Palacios added.
Garcia shone a spotlight on the contract early this year after the contract between the drainage board and Integ Corp. came up for renewal. Garcia objected to Integ receiving a 1.5 percent commission from a hybrid border wall and Rio Grande levee system project that was not originally part of the county’s master drainage plan and was largely paid for with federal dollars.
“At that time, when they gave them that contract, nobody was even thinking about border wall, nobody was even thinking about levees,” Garcia said.
Drainage District Manager Godfrey Garza is the president of Integ.
“Integ did not just sit there and just go out there and get a check for no reason,” he said. “This project cost 200 and some-odd million dollars. There was zero overruns on this project, and that has a lot to do with the team effort of everybody working on the project getting it done.”
Integ earned $3.73 million in commission from the project.
Some members of the board raised concerns that litigating the 8-year-old and already-paid contract would be more trouble than it’s worth.
“How much is it going to cost us?” Precinct 3 Commissioner Joe Flores asked at one point during Tuesday’s meeting, referring to the hiring of an attorney.
“I’m not sure how much, but we’ve already spent $3,700,000 that I don’t think we should have spent,” Garcia replied. “But that’s something for somebody else to determine.”
The board is asking an attorney:
>> Be licensed in the State of Texas.
>> Have 20 or more years of experience with extensive knowledge in contract law/litigation.
>> Provide an estimate of time they’d need to work on the case.
>> Provide a more detailed report to board of directors within 30 days after engagement.

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