San Angelo's Standard Times editorial staff got the topic right, there's dissension in city government. Their piece skimmed the surface. A deeper exploration involves "asking why" seven times.
It's finally clear District 5 City Councilman Winkie Wardlaw had one burning issue he wanted addressed once installed in office. He sought to depose Carollo Engineering from its perch as the City's go-to firm for water engineering services. Unbeknownst to the Mayor and city staff, Wardlaw's plan involved hitting the issue hard and fast.
Now to the whys (a mix of Wardlaw's statements and my assessment):
1) Why did Councilman Wardlaw want the issue on the agenda? Because Wardlaw does not trust Carollo, specifically Carollo's Vice President Hutch Musallam. Those were his words.
2) Why doesn't Wardlaw trust Hutch Musallam? Because Musallam worked on the City of San Angelo account as a Freese and Nichols engineer. Wardlaw worked with Freese and Nichols in his former role as Council member. Also, a prior Freese and Nichols study suggested too many problems with the Hickory Aquifer for the city to pursue as a viable long term water supply. When Hutch moved from Freese to Carollo he was able to take the City of San Angelo account with him. This was due to Musallam's relationship with former Water Chief Will Wilde.
The September 16, 2008 City Council minutes indicate Council awarded Carollo the work in the Consent Agenda:
Water Utilities Director Will Wilde clarified the partnership regarding the Engineering Services Agreement between Freeze Nichols, Inc, and the City for the Nasworthy Dam project; and clarified and explained the scope of work and the Water Advisory Board’s recommendation of Carrollo Engineering. He noted according to state law, the selection of a contractor is done based upon qualification as opposed to cost.Note: Wilde said Carollo was selected for qualifications, "as opposed to cost." City staff narrowed six firms to two, but took only one recommendation to the Water Advisory Board, Carollo.
The numbers bandied about in City Council were $15-20 million in fees for Carollo on the Hickory project, both for engineering and construction management. That doesn't include construction management services for the Water Treatment Plant.
3) Why did Wardlaw not want to talk to staff about this issue prior to asking for an agenda item to propose the removal of Carollo? Because, it's no longer about specific issues or concerns. "There isn't time for that," stated Wardlaw.
4) Why isn't there time in Councilman Wardlaw's mind? Councilman Wardlaw has one objective in regard to Carollo, seeing that their work for the City of San Angelo comes to an end. Any difficulties or delays in getting the item heard impeded his objective. Even offers with the sincerest of intentions, Wardlaw treated as unfriendly.
5) Why did Wardlaw react so strongly to his two agenda items being struck from a draft agenda, then moved from the public agenda to Executive Session? These actions obstructed his wish to have Carollo replaced. He viewed the act as gross insubordination, thus the shotgun request to discuss whoever might've struck the item from the agenda. Also, Wardlaw stated he lined up a water engineer he trusted to attend the last Council meeting and had to tell this person not to come. It's not clear who this water engineer is or the firm he's with. Wardlaw tried to invoke current water Chief Ricky Dickson as being on his side with concerns regarding Carollo, Ricky took offense. The parties took turns silencing the other, making for City Council high drama.
6) Why this issue, why push so hard and why now? It's a case of conflict escalated to its highest manifestation. I imagine Wardlaw's public concerns are but the tip of a West Texas fire ant hill. Is Will Wilde somewhere in the mix? Wilde's son Blake worked as a local subcontractor for Carollo, after being fired as a City Engineer. Musallam told Council Carollo paid $1.4 million to local subs. It's not clear how much of the $1.4 million Blake received.
7) What about San Angelo's city government led to this situation? One must have some idea of the history of the parties involved, as well as the terrible hand City Manager Daniel Valenzuela was dealt by former Councils and City/Interim City Managers.
It's bad enough when the surprises come from inside City Hall, as happened in Valenzuela's first Council meeting with the Furniture Fiasco. While it seems out of left field with a new Councilman, it's clearly rooted in history and relationships.
In 1996 Freese and Nichols was awarded a National ASCE "Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement Award Nomination" and the State of Texas "Oustanding Civil Engineering Award" for the O.H. Ivie Project. The dam at O.H. Ivie is named the "Simon W. Freese Dam."
I'm sure Mayor Morrison wishes this hadn't happened so early in his term.
City Council has a right to expect more from staff on multiple levels. However, Wardlaw's issue appears too narrow and personal to effectively make this point.
San Angelo is full of history and relationships, some prettier than others.
Update 9-20-13: Steve Salmon, former Water Advisory Board member, spoke at the 9-17-13 City Council meeting in public comment on San Angelo's partnership with Midland and Abilene to find future water sources. He stated the Water Board was given one recommendation for the firm to engineer and manage the Hickory Project and that came from City Staff. He was clearly disturbed by the way City Staff limited the Water Board's ability to perform its job. Salmon spoke around the 1:45 minute mark.