Sunday, July 21, 2013

City Government's Deep Dissension

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.

Issue :
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): 

Why Questions:
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. 


allie devereaux said...

Excellent background! Can we start a homegrown community newspaper with you as lead investigative journalist and Jim Turner as editor in chief, in print, so more people can read this stuff?

However, I do not think you have demonstrated that Wardlaw's issue is to narrow in focus or too personal to be of significance... Maybe he truly believes that the City is getting screwed and is the only one with the institutional memory to put all the pieces together. It seems that everyone just dislikes his personality, and I am afraid we may dismiss this very important issue because of it.

Now, everything seems to point back to the recently resigned water department head, but aren't there still figures in this picture that directed Wilde? What more can be said about the water advisory board's role in this fiasco?

PEU Report/State of the Division said...

This comment was e-mailed to me by Allie Devereaux, so I'm posting it here:

I have tried to post a few times on your blog and it just never works, the screen is cleared every time I hit post comment...

Anyway, great investigative work on the Carollo issue I don't think you have shown, however, that Wardlaw's interest is too narrow or personal to be of significance. Maybe he just sees that the city is getting screwed and he is the only one with the institutional memory to put all the pieces together?

Another issue....Carrillo, you have shown, is here as a buddy of Wilde's, but why was Wilde here? Aren't his masters still in the picture and leading the water advisory board?

Jim Turner said...

You've raised some interesting points and are getting to the questions. It's not a question of lack of significance for Mr. W and his issues. It's the fact he never really gets to the point of saying what they are. Being all sentence first, investigate later and off with their heads right now might be appropriate for the wonderland theme he wants to bring to the council but it's not a way to get problem solving started.

As far as his institutional memory goes, he's really been MIA on most of this since he left the Water Advisory Board early in JW's term. It's only recently that he's gotten back on board, and he hasn't shown that Carrollo has done anything that wasn't directed and approved first by staff and council. Of course, we may never know for sure if he continues to keep his 14 issues to himself. Best I can tell, much of the information he has about issues was supplied to him by other parties who wish to bring their own dog to this fight.

If you want to know more about history and background there are two questions to answer. First, who was the city manager that started Wilde on his career and what water organizations does he now work for/on. Next, what outside companies have significant interest in selling water into the West Texas area and maybe becoming a water monopoly, and are they lobbying behind the scenes? Say tuned for the answers.