Commissioners delay forming committee

Gary Burns, Victoria County commissioner Precinct 3, listens to the airport director during a commissioners court meeting in late July. Commissioners directed their attention at the meeting to an invoice from a businessman critical of how they spent Hurricane Harvey recovery money.

Victoria County commissioners Monday postponed forming a forensic task force to examine spending at the Victoria Regional Airport after Hurricane Harvey.

County Commissioner Kevin Janak said since February, he has worked consistently with Sarah Hamman, a compliance specialist with the county’s administrative services office, and a small group of people fact-checking information and reviewing invoices related to the work.

Commissioners chose Monday to delay forming the task force to allow Janak and the small group to finish the work they have started.

“Our process has not stopped, and will not stop, until we give that final number count and final projects, when it’s all completed (with) all of the checks and balances; then we’ll give it to the court, to the public, to everybody,” Janak said.

The proposal of a forensic task force came after people have raised questions and criticized the county’s spending process after Harvey at the Victoria Regional Airport. At a joint meeting between Victoria County commissioners and airport commissioners in mid-July, airport commissioner Dennis Patillo called for the creation of a forensic task force to examine the rebuilding process.

Janak said he thinks a lot of people are going to be “very disappointed” to find there’s no money missing and no wrongdoing took place. He did not say when the internal review would be complete but said it is about 70-75% done and will be presented during commissioners court when it is complete.

County Judge Ben Zeller said he applauds Janak for his work on reviewing invoices.

“When the need for this review emerged, you jumped right on it and got to work,” he said. “You didn’t run out to the public making accusations with questions that you had; you rolled up your sleeves and started looking for answers.”

Airport commission chairman Trey Ruschhaupt, who was not at Monday’s meeting, said he thinks “it’s a logical move” to postpone forming the task force until the internal review is complete.

“I question why it’s taken six months to get only 70% of the work done, but I’m sure Commissioner Janak will see to it that it’s done in a timely manner, and then we’ll get back to this task force from there,” he said.

County Commissioner Gary Burns, who has been the primary county commissioner stating concerns, wrote a memo requesting that the task force be discussed, saying it would be an “opportunity to improve and do a better job for our taxpayers.”

He said Monday he accepted the decision to delay “as long as we’re not dodging the issue.”

Aside from the task force, Burns brought up ongoing concerns Monday about how the county handled the bidding process, referring to the fact that the county voted to exempt themselves from state bidding laws and contract with the Virtus Group, a Kansas-based company, to do remediation and work at the airport after Harvey.

Burns asked that further discussion take place, which Zeller said can happen at the next meeting if the county’s attorney – Eric Magee of Allison, Bass and Magee– is available.

Janak said with conversation about “multiple different issues here,” he did not want to cloud what the internal committee has been working on since February. He said the committee has been “matching up numbers” to work that was done and performing necessary checks and balances.

County Commissioner Danny Garcia said he didn’t disagree with Burns about the need to form the committee to help alleviate public concerns.

“We have lost some trust from the public, and we need to gain that trust back,” he said.

Zeller suggested the future committee include two members of Commissioners Court; two members of the airport commission, to be chosen by the airport chairman; two members of the internal committee already reviewing processes; one person from the community with expertise regarding audits; and one person from the community with expertise regarding insurance matters.

Zeller said with the future task force, he hopes an initial focus would be largely the same as what the internal committee is already working on: comparing invoices to the scope of service.

Burns asked for a copy of the scope of service, saying he had not seen it.

Zeller said he also hoped a task force would “confirm our belief that there was nothing paid for that was not done” as well as bring about process recommendations to the court. He said an “after-action improvement plan” could be beneficial to analyze what was done right and what could have been done better.

Morgan Theophil covers local government for the Victoria Advocate. She can be reached at 361-580-6511, mtheophil@vicad.com or on Twitter

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Local Government Reporter

Morgan Theophil covers local government for the Victoria Advocate. She can be reached at 361-580-6511, mtheophil@vicad.com or on Twitter.

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(1) comment

James Garland

OMG! What is wrong with this picture? We have the Victoria County officials policing themselves instead of forming a forensic investigation team as requested. Have we gone from almost comical to almost criminal? I don't think anyone ran to the public with accusations, they ran to the public with facts and concerns and I have to applaud them for that reason. and it's hard to roll up your sleeves and go to work if you have already been told to "stay out of it".

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