No wrongdoing, but county project had problems

Posted Wednesday, Jul. 17, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Tarrant County officials have investigated an allegation of possible double-billing and work done on private property as part of a county road project and found the suspicions to be groundless.

Tarrant County commissioners received detailed investigation reports Tuesday from County Administrator G.K. Maenius and County Auditor S. Renee Tidwell saying there had been no wrongdoing by the contractor or county employees.

But their investigations did find sloppy documentation of “changes made to the scope of work” for the project. They also found that the process of entering a “goods receipt” into the county’s financial system is inadequate.

R.D. Howard Construction had been awarded a $36,000 contract to build a driveway and drainage culverts as part of a project to eliminate a dangerous intersection at Rendon-Bloodworth Road and Farm Road 1187 in the southeast part of the county.

A former county road crew worker had alleged that although Howard was paid in full, $14,000 of the work was done by two other companies. The ex-employee also said Howard was paid almost $6,000 for pouring a concrete slab on private property.

The Star-Telegram confirmed those payments through documents received through a Freedom of Information request. But that was not the whole story, according to the county’s internal review.

The administrator’s investigation found that a county official asked Howard to take on additional work for the road project and to do it within the original bid price of $36,000.

At the same time, because delivery of Howard’s order of materials was several weeks off, he was asked to give part of the original job ($14,000 worth) to another contractor who had the materials on hand.

The work on private property, according to the report, was done at the request (and with the approval) of a county official to make a property owner “whole” after part of the roadway was closed, cutting off access to FM 1187.

“In response to allegations made toward R.D. Howard Construction, we found no evidence of wrongdoing,” Tidwell said in her report. “We believe that R.D. Howard Construction had proper approvals from Tarrant County for the changes made to the scope of services described.”

That is good to know. It is also good to know that the auditor and county administrator have proposed a set of policies and procedures to make sure contract change orders that result in additional costs will be closely monitored, with the proper oversight provided by a chain of command that can lead all the way to the county administrator and the Commissioners Court.

Commissioner Roy Brooks, in whose precinct the project is located, said he was gratified that the investigations found no improper payments or wrongdoing by the contractor.

“But,” he added, “there is no excuse for the shoddy record keeping and lack of administrative controls cited by both reports. Those things end now.”

For the sake of county taxpayers, let’s hope he is correct.

Decades ago, stories circulated widely about church and business parking lots being paved and about other work on private property by county crews, especially during months before an election. If those stories were true, those were the bad old days.

These days, officials must be held accountable for their use of taxpayer money. Proper procedures must be in place so every dollar can be tracked.

It sounds like Tarrant County officials intend to do that and to avoid any confusion on future projects.

County contractors, too, should be relieved that proper records will be the order of the day. None of them want to be dragged through this sort of mess when those records aren’t kept.

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