in Houston, Texas

Metro says it lacks expertise to manage light-rail project; hired $2,400/day consultant who is associate of Metro CEO

Thursday, Jul 16, 2009, 07:00AM CST
By Rosanna Ruiz
HOUSTON -- A former colleague of Metro's chief executive officer stands to make more than $500,000 in a year and a half as a consultant for the transit agency, overseeing Houston's light rail contract.

Metro didn't seek any competing bids for its contract with California-based consultant Clyde H. Garrison Jr., who used to work in Los Angeles with Metro CEO Frank J. Wilson. Metro has extended Garrison's contract three times since hiring him last summer. The current contract pays him $300 per hour and lasts through next spring.

The consultant was needed because the agency doesn't have staff with the know-how to oversee the $1.46 billion light-rail contract, and hiring him was cheaper than hiring full-time staff, Wilson said.

But a transportation policy expert says he doesn't understand why Metro's experts aren't up to the job.

"That (contract) belongs to the agency," said Michael Ennis, transportation director of the Washington Policy Center for Transportation. "You don't need a consultant."

Metro entered contract negotiations with Parsons Transportation Group in April of last year, when it announced the firm would be the contractor on the North, East End, Uptown and Southeast rail lines after negotiations failed with another firm. The firm will design, build, operate and manage the four new rail lines.

Construction is set to start this month.

Last July, the transit agency turned to consultant Garrison to help land the deal.  He was hired under terms of what Metro calls a personal, or sole-source, contract which releases the agency from the usual rules on using small or minority-owned businesses. But here's the kicker: No competing bids are required under such contracts.

Read the Metro contract documents here.

Wilson told the transit agency's board members that no one in-house had Garrison's level of expertise.

Garrison's contract was at one point set to expire in spring 2008 2009.

“Beyond the six months ... there are no plans to further require the services of the consultant," according to a contract document.

After Parsons and Metro reached an agreement in April, Garrison's contract was extended again so he could help monitor the project. Garrison will be paid as much as $250,000 for another year's work, or as much as $2,400 per day.

Why was a consultant needed?

Wilson said the agency doesn't have workers with construction oversight experience, and that it was simply not "timely" to bring them on before now as the project moves from the design phase.

He said hiring Garrison made better economic sense.


"We'll be bringing in people into position for the right phase of work," Wilson said.

While hiring a consultant is certainly not unique to the Metropolitan Transit Authority, some question why the agency still doesn't have staff members that can manage the contract. The agency has been negotiating the contract to add rail lines since January 2007.

“It’s hard to imagine that a transit agency wouldn’t have the time to manage a contract, particularly a project as significant as this one," said Ennis, of the Washington Policy Center for Transportation. The center is a Seattle-based research group with a policy bent on "market solutions."


Wilson and Garrison both balked at the charge, saying they have very different roles.

“He’s running a big transit agency,” Garrison, 77, said from his home in Corona, Calif. “He doesn’t have time to get down in the trenches and monitor a contract.”

Paul Magaziner, a Houston business leader who has spent considerable time researching Metro's light-rail plan, said he was not surprised that an outside consultant was needed to monitor the contract.

"It doesn't really surprise me that they're not quite ready to go," said Magaziner, a frequent critic of the agency.

He also pointed out that Garrison had replaced a previous consultant, Frank Russo, who had been paid considerably to handle negotiations with Washington Group International, Metro’s preferred contractor. That deal soured last year when the two sides were hundreds of millions of dollars apart following more than a year of negotiations.

Story continues ...

Contractor's qualifications; full-time workers to be hired by the end of the year. On page 2.

Homepage photo: One of Metro's light rail trains leaves the Museum District station. Texas Watchdog photo by Jennifer Peebles.

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