Numerous Victoria County buildings are still burdened with damage and await considerable repairs more than two years after Hurricane Harvey, records show.
The lingering damage spans county buildings and includes roofs that leak “terribly,” work that has left the county’s historic courthouse looking “run-down and ragged” and work that was listed as complete but is now firmly marked as “done wrong.” The documents were released to the Victoria Advocate through an open records request.
“No one can say definitively that there’s been any corruption, and that’s likely not the case, but everything about this situation seems suspicious,” said Anthony Gutierrez, the executive director of Common Cause Texas, a nonprofit group that advocates for accountability in government. “If nothing else, government is not working efficiently here, and there are a lot of serious questions.”
About eight months after Victoria County Commissioner Kevin Janak began fact-checking information and reviewing work that was done, the public is awaiting his group’s report and answers to their questions. Sept. 23, Janak emailed all county departments to ask whether there were any areas of concern in their departments related to the repairs after Harvey.
“In particular in your department,” he wrote, “are there any repairs that were not completed or you completed yourself that you feel the county has paid for?”
The county has spent millions on repairs, yet officials are still scrambling to verify what work was done after the storm. After Janak went to the county departments for their input, he said he also asked representatives of the Virtus Group, a Kansas-based company facing scrutiny about how the county managed Harvey recovery money, to perform its own “extensive review” of the work it did in the county.
“We’re here to get it right, and we will get it right,” Janak said at an Oct. 7 commissioners court meeting.
At the Victoria Regional Airport, Lenny Llerena, the airport director, and Lauren Daniels, the financial assistant, reported to Janak numerous buildings that sit in need of repairs.
For example, Virtus, now called Commercial Restoration Company, did work in an airport hangar, but it still leaks.
In the airport’s control tower, Virtus did work on the base molding on the third-floor office, and the note from airport staff says it was “done wrong.” In the old church, Virtus got paint on the carpet and removed a light that it didn’t put back. In the airport terminal, workers got paint on the floor that is still there, even though Virtus marked the job as completed.
In what was formerly the Fisher Stevens building, which also remains vacant, the roof was replaced, but it still leaks.
In the Victoria County Fire Marshal’s Office on airport property, in multiple offices, Virtus completed floor work, but airport staff noted the company did not replace the flooring with carpet tiles and instead replaced it with hardwood. Also at the fire marshal’s office, Virtus worked on the roof, but it still leaks. During other repairs, some work was wired incorrectly and needs to be fixed.
One tenant told airport staff that the roof in their building leaks “terribly” after the repairs, so much so that they have large trash cans catching rain inside the building.
A black blower leaks water and needs to be fixed, a vent system was put in backward and the list goes on.
Airport Commission Chairman Trey Ruschhaupt, who has been among the airport commissioners calling for answers from county officials about the management of recovery after Harvey, said the commission let Llerena take charge, going through the airport to point out what repairs are still in need.
At the same time, he said, the commission can only do so much because “we have been out of the loop the whole time on the insurance and the work.”
“We’re kind of in limbo here,” he said. “We’re waiting on Janak to present his findings so we can go from there and decide whether airport personnel will do it or Virtus will do it, but right now we just don’t know.”
Ruschhaupt said he hopes Janak presents his findings soon because the longer the county waits, the worse the existing damage could get.
“There is a sense of urgency because being in limbo is not allowing the repairs to happen, and instead damage could deteriorate further because of weather and leakage and things like that,” he said.
As far as what the lasting damage says about the work that Virtus did at the airport, Ruschhaupt said it was an “enormous project” that needed to be addressed immediately and it was likely “overwhelming.”
“I just hope that when everything is said and done and these numbers are together, there is some type of process that comes out so the next time we don’t go through this all like we did,” he said.
Along with the airport, lingering damage spans other county departments, too.
County Clerk Heidi Easley wrote to Janak that after the hurricane, work was done in a restroom on the second floor of the courthouse, which included cutting some of the Sheetrock out of the ceiling. She said expanded metal and some of the insulation, along with a hole, are still visible in the restroom.
“It really is a poor reflection of the courthouse, along with a lot of the other areas that are starting to look run-down and ragged,” she wrote.
In the county’s archives building, Jeff Wright, the county’s heritage director, reported to Janak that a window that blew out during the storm has been replaced, but “some interior damage remains, including plaster repair, painting, water damage and replacing blinds on the window.” The emergency exit still allows water to enter the building during heavy rains, he wrote.
The 377th Judicial District Court office reported damage that Janak said occurred post-Harvey. The county’s indigent defense coordinator’s office, administrative services and the public health department reported to Janak that they had no concerns.
Gutierrez said the situation “raises red flags right away” because of the way the county contracted with Virtus by bypassing legal bid laws. He questioned “why the officials didn’t ever stop to seek work from better, trusted local companies.”
“At best, it sounds like this company was inept, but in government, it’s important people continue to ask what the situation could be at worst,” he said.
Virtus Group has declined all requests for comment from the Advocate due to a nondisclosure agreement.
Airport Commissioner Dennis Patillo said he thinks Janak and his group need to review the original scope of work and whether the recovery work was ever spelled out properly. In any construction project, he said, a clearly agreed-upon scope of work is important.
“It’s a critical issue to see where we are, and if, however, the scope of work was ill-defined, that would be a real challenge to hold someone accountable,” he said. “I don’t know if that appeared or happened. We’ve asked, and we don’t know.”
Not all of the existing damage or plans for repairs are falling on Virtus. In some of Janak’s replies to the departments, he wrote Virtus will return to repair or finish some of the work, while some of it has been passed to Kelly Hubert, the county’s facilities manager. Some work reported to Janak was never on Virtus’ punchlist to begin with, he wrote, and the county will handle it.
Patillo noted, however, that it will be important to see how the county moves forward with the remainder of the repairs. For example, he questioned whether the county will go out for bids for any of the work left to happen, something it did not do when contracting with Virtus from the start.
“It’s a critical issue to see where we are and, moving forward, to ask if there is any consideration to opening the outstanding work for bids,” he said. “That is a legitimate question.”