Victoria County commissioners directed their attention Monday to an invoice from a businessman critical of how they spent Hurricane Harvey recovery money.

During their Monday meeting, commissioners reviewed a $10,500 invoice dated June 17 from Clegg Industries for work done at the Victoria Regional Airport’s maintenance shop. The work was done after a recent storm that dumped about 7 inches of rain at the airport and pooled on the roof of the maintenance shop, causing damage, said Sarah Hamman, a compliance specialist with the county’s administrative services office.

County Judge Ben Zeller said the Clegg invoice appeared to be lacking in detail. Business owner John Clegg is among a growing chorus of Victoria residents raising concerns about how the county handled $2.68 million of Hurricane Harvey recovery money. One aspect of the criticism focused on the county paying at least $2.1 million to the Virtus Group, a Kansas-based company that did work at the Victoria Regional Airport after Harvey without providing detailed invoices.

Zeller said the invoice from Clegg Industries provided the same amount of detail as the previous invoices and asked the court whether they wanted further clarification. The invoice, which is in the commissioners’ agenda, described the work as “reinforcing and supporting ceiling of maintenance building.”

County Commissioner Gary Burns, who is among those criticizing the Harvey spending, said the information in the invoice was adequate.

“And so that level of detail is sufficient for you, Commissioner Burns?” Zeller asked him.

“We can get more if you want to,” Burns replied.

Kelly Hubert, the county’s facilities manager, referenced an insurance report about the Clegg work, which said, “We find their invoice to be fair and reasonable based upon the scope of work and local labor rates.” The report was not included in the commissioners’ agenda.

He said the insurance report provided more detail than what is on the invoice, including an itemized list and the fact that at least six men worked to shore up the ceiling.

Commissioners requested a copy of the insurance report and approved the payment to Clegg Industries. Sean Kennedy, the county treasurer, also requested a copy.

“I’m just trying to get copies to make sure everything is in record,” said Kennedy, who was quoted in Sunday’s Advocate story as saying the commissioners had been increasingly keeping him out of the spending process.

County Commissioner Danny Garcia asked questions about the process and whether airport director Lenny Llerena signed the invoice. Llerena said he reviews and signs every invoice that takes money out of the airport’s budget but does not do so if the cost is paid by the insurance carrier.

A purchase order for the work, also in the commissioners’ agenda, was signed by Lauren Daniels, the airport’s financial assistant.

“I’m just trying to figure out with all the mess that we’re dealing with right now, if the mess that we’re dealing with is as normal as what we’ve done in the past where you got an invoice, Kelly got the stuff later on but the work was done,” Garcia said.

Clegg, who regularly bids on government contracts, said in the Sunday Advocate story that because the county didn’t follow standard government contract and bid procedures and accepted the non-detailed invoices for work done at the airport after Harvey, the “entire rebuilding project after Harvey is suspect.”

At Clegg Industries, he said, every job has a number assigned to it, costs for materials and labor are tracked and project managers are often assigned to big projects.

Zeller pointed out after Monday’s meeting it was “interesting” that the invoice discussed during the meeting was from Clegg Industries.

Contacted by phone later Monday, Clegg said the invoice was sufficient because “it tells exactly what building it is and it tells exactly what we did to the building.”

Burns said it was important the invoice came up in court Monday as its own agenda item so it could be examined and discussed publicly rather than being “shuffled in with 50 pages of payables.” The county’s payments to Virtus were made through accounts payable and not pulled out as an agenda item for discussion after the commissioners originally voted to hire the company in September 2017 and exempt themselves from the state law that requires projects of $50,000 or more to be put to bid.

The Clegg payment was listed as its own agenda item because the auditor’s office was unsure what fund commissioners wanted it to be paid from, Zeller said, and the limited detail caught the court’s attention.

Burns said he hoped the commissioners would provide this level of scrutiny going forward.

“This gives us an opportunity to step up,” Burns said. “If we didn’t do everything right, we admit it and say, ‘From now on, especially if we get the study done, we’ll take care of it and do it right.’”

At a joint meeting between Victoria County commissioners and airport commissioners, airport commissioner Dennis Patillo called for the creation of a forensic task force to examine the steps taken during the rebuilding process at the airport after Harvey.

Garcia said Monday that before the “deal with the hurricane and the invoices and all, this probably wouldn’t have been questioned to the extent that it is now.” He added that “maybe the structure of what we do does need to be looked at a little more closely.”

Burns added: “You know, when we run for office we preach transparency, and that’s what the question is. So, you know, let’s just make it right.”

After Monday’s meeting, Zeller said the county would continue taking steps to ensure procedures are up to par, which starts with examining all invoices and comparing them to the predetermined scope of service decided by county staff.

“Certainly we’ll be looking at ways to improve policies and procedures going forward,” he said.

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

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George Schwarz Staff
George Schwarz

Keep at it Advocate. This is the journalism we need here and nationally. Thank you.

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