By Kathi Bliss
The Caldwell County Commissioners continued to clash over how best to proceed with the renovation project on the soon-to-be-purchased WalMart building during a special called meeting on Monday morning.
Recently, Austin-based construction consultants Broaddus and Associates brought forth a proposal to provide procurement services related to the employment of an architect, engineer and later, a contractor, to design and oversee construction when the County takes possession of and begins to remodel the existing WalMart building. When the project is complete, the current retail space will be converted to the new Caldwell County Judicial Center.
Questions that swirl around the project center on whether the Commissioners should seek assistance in vetting, negotiating with, and later contracting an architect and an engineer, and whether the Court should allow Broaddus to update a “facilities and needs assessment,” which was originally completed in 2010.
The first question the Commissioners attempted to tackle was the consideration of whether they should allocate up to $30,000 to Broaddus and Associates for assistance in hiring an architect, engineer and contractor.
Brenda Jenkins, the president in Broaddus’ Austin offices, made the pitch on behalf of her company.
Jenkins reminded the Commissioners that architects’ and engineers’ fees – and qualifications – can vary wildly, and that professional assistance in screening and vetting those engineers and contractors can make the difference between a successful project and an unsuccessful one. Broaddus’ stake in the process, she said, would be to be guided by the Commissioners’ Court and assist them in choosing and ranking their priorities, to draft the Requests for Qualifications, and later the Requests for Proposal on the job, and to help the Court negotiate the contracts.
“We know, through the experience that our professionals have, what services are worth,” she said. “Our professionals do this all the time.”
The three main local stakeholders in the project, District Judge Todd A. Blomerth, County Court at Law Judge Edward Jarrett, and District Attorney Trey Hicks, all of whom will be officed in the new space, offered their unwavering support to contracting with Broaddus for the assistance.
“I don’t have the qualifications to choose an architect or an engineer for this project,” Blomerth said. “And with all due respect, neither do you [addressing the court].”
Blomerth said he believes it is important, with a construction project of this scope, to have the proper planning and research done up front, to save time and money on the project once it gets underway.
Both Jarrett and Hicks echoed the sentiment, suggesting that the $30,000 price tag on Broaddus’ services is a small price to pay to ensure that the project is done correctly, and that the County’s investment in a building that will likely be used for the next 25 years, is protected.
Others, including Commissioner Fred Buchholtz and local builder Danny Buckner, who was invited by Buchholtz to speak to the Court, said that Broaddus’ services were not necessary, and that the County could draft the Request for Qualifications and hire an engineer and architect on their own.
After quite a bit of healthy back-and-forth discussion on the matter, it seemed as if the Court would move forward with contracting Broaddus for the procurement services.
Commissioner Joe Roland, though he acknowledged that it was wisest to “ask someone, if you don’t know how to do something,” asked for more time to speak with some constituents who had advised him against the initiative. He said he was going to vote in favor of it, but asked for the time to explain to those who stood against it why he intended to make the vote that he did.
Both Commissioners John Cyrier and Neto Madrigal initially spoke in favor of putting off the vote, and giving Roland the time that he requested. However, County Judge Tom Bonn reminded the Court that he was going to be absent for the next two meetings, and pressed the Court to vote on Monday.
Cyrier then reminded Roland that it was the Commissioners who ultimately were responsible for their votes.
Bonn and Cyrier ultimately voted in favor of the measure. Buchholtz, who maintained that the services were not necessary, voted against it, as did Roland, who said he supported it, but still needed more time. Madrigal, presumably in support of giving Roland more time to make his decision, also voted “no.”
It is possible that the service agreement with Broaddus and Associates for facilitation services will come back to the Court at a later date.
When those discussions were complete, the Court began discussing updates to the 2010 facilities plan.
Once again, Buchholtz said he believed Broaddus’ services were unnecessary, and that the architect eventually contracted to oversee the project would do the same job – meeting with the stakeholders in an effort to determine the “needs” and “wants” for the new judicial center.
Austin architect Robert Steinbomer, a Lockhart resident with more than 30 years experience in architecture, said that in his professional opinion, a facilities assessment would be a help to any architect contracted to work on the project. He also noted the existence of a needs assessment would reduce an architect’s up-front cost, because it would be unnecessary to duplicate that work, if it were already done.
After some discussion on the matter, the Court voted 3-2 to spend $10,000 with Broaddus to update the facilities assessment, with Roland and Buchholtz standing against the notion.
Finally, the Court entered discussion about moving the “non-core” payroll functions out of the County Treasurer’s Office, and putting those responsibilities under the umbrella of the Human Resources Department.
The idea, brought forth by Bonn during budget negotiations last summer, is something that County Treasurer Lori Rangel-Pompa has stood against for several months, suggesting the responsibility for payroll should remain in her office, because ultimately it is her name and her signature on the payroll checks.
County Auditor Larry Roberson spoke to the Court about the notion, wherein payroll would be processed by the Human Resources Department, which would be responsible for data entry and the initial review of the County’s payroll. The payroll would then be audited by Roberson’s office, and passed along to Rangel-Pompa’s office for final approval and disbursement.
Rangel-Pompa said she wanted to maintain payroll, and that under the current process, she was unable to review certain documents related to the entry of the payroll, and therefore could not spot-audit the payroll.
Although Bonn noted that it had been discussed during budget time that the responsibilities would be transferred to the Human Resources Department, Madrigal brought the measure back to the Court for a vote, he said, because in a letter Rangel-Pompa received last week, Bonn apparently said the Court had “voted to transfer” the non-core functions to the Human Resources Department. Madrigal said he wanted to make sure that the vote was taken.
The Court engaged in discussions about statutory responsibilities for each department, and both Madrigal and Roland expressed concern that the Court was attempting to set responsibilities for an elected official during the middle of that official’s term. Rather than making the change now, they said, the change should be effective at the beginning of the next full term of the elected County Treasurer.
Bonn maintained the change was being made, not to slight Rangel-Pompa, but to streamline the payroll process and to protect the County from potential lawsuits that might result from errors in the payroll.
At the end of the discussion, the Court voted 3-2 to transfer the duties, with Madrigal and Roland voting against, and with the Court advising Roberson, Rangel-Pompa and Human Resources Director Deborah Kortan to work together to make sure that each department was satisfied with the way payroll is being processed.
The Caldwell County Commissioners normally meet on the second, third and fourth Monday of each month at 9 a.m. in the Conference and Training Room at the LW Scott Annex, 1400 Blackjack St., in Lockhart. The meetings are open to the public and the agendas are available online at www.co.caldwell.tx.us.