A Virtus Group representative came to Victoria County on Wednesday, but details about that trip were not announced to the public before his visit.
Sept. 16, County Commissioner Kevin Janak said during a commissioners court meeting that a representative from the Virtus Group would be visiting the county during the following week. The visit, he said, would “finish the piece of the puzzle.”
Janak told the Advocate he would inform the newspaper when he learned about the representative’s plans. However, he wrote in an email Thursday that the representative had visited the county Wednesday and left.
“I forgot to call, and I do apologize for that,” Janak said Friday.
Virtus Group, now called Commercial Restoration Company, is the Kansas-based company at the center of an ongoing controversy about whether the county spent Hurricane Harvey recovery money in taxpayers’ best interests.
Janak said the work group, which has been fact-checking information and reviewing work performed on county buildings after Harvey for months, were the only ones to meet with the representative. He identified the representative as Luis Garcia, the “man on the ground in Victoria after Harvey.”
The work group includes Janak; Becky Smiley, the county’s audit manager; and Sarah Hamman, a compliance specialist with the county’s administrative services office.
Reached by phone Friday, Garcia said he could not comment about his visit or any work the company did in Victoria because of a non-disclosure agreement with the client.
While Janak initiated Garcia’s visit, which he said at the time was scheduled only after weeks of attempting to get someone on the phone, the county did not pay any tax money for the trip, the commissioner said.
The meeting was “productive,” Janak said. They went to the Victoria Regional Airport and looked at a number of buildings, including a building formerly rented by the University of Houston-Victoria and one that had been rented by Fisher Stevens, as well as the county’s extension office, to “discuss how work transpired.”
The UHV and Fisher Stevens buildings both remain unrepaired after Harvey, though airport officials have said both buildings could likely bring in significant income.
“We just took advantage of him coming down here to show certain ones that we have questions on,” Janak said.
Garcia was able to answer some of the work group’s questions, and he will answer other questions once he meets with someone who has the related supplemental and change orders, he said.
The county has paid millions to Virtus, but Janak said the county is holding onto an additional $352,000 likely owed to the company to “protect the taxpayers as we confirm that we owe it to them.”
During the commissioners’ meeting Sept. 23, Janak said he was going to ask all county departments to weigh in about any work that has not been done but was possibly paid for after the storm. He said he gave departments until noon Friday to respond, and now the work group will sort through their responses and continue evaluating.
“We’re very, very close,” he said.
Janak said no other commissioners were present during Garcia’s visit. County Commissioner Gary Burns said he was not informed about the meeting ahead of time.
“I don’t know anything about his investigation or his timing or anything,” he said. “I don’t know enough to even comment.”
County Commissioner Danny Garcia said in an email he was unable to be a part of the meeting but is “just as eager to review and discuss the completed report, which should be an agenda item in the coming weeks.”
County Commissioner Clint Ives also said he was not involved in the meeting, while County Judge Ben Zeller did not return a request for comment Friday.
The work group will present a report to the commissioners court once they have final, factual information, Janak said.
“I would just love to go ahead and let everything out, but we have to make sure on this,” he said.