in Houston, Texas
Houston ISD to pay groundskeeping contractor twice the low bid
Tuesday, Aug 30, 2011, 10:04AM CST
By Mike Cronin and Jennifer Peebles
Weedwacker

The Houston public schools earlier this year hired a company headed by a local football star – one who had a brief career in the NFL – to cut grass and do grounds maintenance at dozens of schools even though the firm was far from the lowest bidder on the job, records show.

The Houston Independent School District, which has been at the center of controversy lately over contracts given to friends of school board members, hired Southwest Wholesale Nursery for grounds maintenance for its South Region earlier this year after the firm bid $435,451 for the job.
 
That was nearly twice as high as the lowest bidder on the project and higher than seven other firms that bid on the job, records show. The difference between the low bid and Southwest Wholesale's bid was about $205,000. That would pay the annual salaries of about 4.5 teachers on the lowest rung of HISD's teacher pay scale. 

Southwest Wholesale Nursery, with offices in the city’s Central Southwest neighborhood, is owned and operated by Anthony L. Hutchison and his wife, Deborah. Hutchison is the former Texas Tech standout from Converse, outside San Antonio, who played two seasons with the Chicago Bears and a third with the Buffalo Bills, leaving the NFL in 1986. He was the Bears’ 10th-round draft pick in 1983.

Documents from the school system, released to Texas Watchdog under a public records request, don’t address why the school district opted not to give the contracts to lowest bidder, Houston Grotech Services, or any of the other firms that bid lower than Southwest Wholesale.

A message left on Monday afternoon with Gary Hogg, the district senior buyer who communicated with Southwest Wholesale’s owners, was not immediately returned.

Reached on Monday afternoon, Deborah Hutchison referred questions to her husband, Anthony L. Hutchison.

Grotech was awarded the contract for grounds maintenance for HISD’s North Region even though it was the next-to-lowest bidder on that project. Grotech bid $329,056 for that job. Silversand Services, the low bidder, bid $289,544.

Todd Minnis, Grotech's owner, said HISD officials told him that they wanted to split up the North Region and South Region work between two companies.

Chart

Otherwise, “they thought we might be overcapacity. We got the North Region and (Southwest Wholesale Nursery) got the south,” Minnis said. “I've got no argument with it, really. It has some merit to it.”

Minnis said he enjoyed working with HISD, calling district officials “very professional.”

A message left with Jimmy Collins, president of Silversand Services, was not immediately returned.

HISD has asked a national education nonprofit organization, the Council of the Great City Schools, to perform an outside review of the district’s procurement practices. A similar review will be performed by an external audit firm, Superintendent Terry Grier said earlier this month.

Robert Moore, the district's inspector general, began searching for an external auditor last week, said HISD spokesman Jason Spencer.

Even though he’s been out of pro football for 26 years, Hutchison’s NFL experience is the first thing listed on the resume he submitted to HISD.

His company has been paid more than $138,000 by HISD over the past two years, according to the school district’s online check register.

Prior to getting the South Region contract, records show Southwest Wholesale was already mulching, weeding and landscaping at schools for HISD, such as installing 84 plants of ornamental Aztec grass and 12 agapanthus, a perennial sometimes called the Lily of the Nile, along with putting down cedar mulch and weed barrier fabric, at DeBakey High School for the Health Professions in 2009.

Records show HISD officials allowed Hutchison to revise his bid on both the North Region and South Region grounds maintenance contracts about two months after the bids for the project were supposed to have been opened. At one point, his bid was much higher than the final agreed-on number.

HISD records show bids on the project – including grounds maintenance for both the North Region and South Region, as well as additional irrigation and landscaping services – from 19 firms opened on Jan. 26.
But on the morning of Feb. 10, Hogg e-mailed and faxed Hutchison, saying, “I still need your lump sum price” on the North Region and South Region projects. A document that appears to be a fax sent back to Hutchison a few minutes later contains handwritten quotes of $680,167.53 for the South Region work and $817,838 for the North Region.

On March 25, Hogg sent an e-mail to himself saying Hutchison “is submitting final offer for the north and south regions as follows,” quoting the South Region price at $435,451 and the North Region price at $662,000. The documents do not show a reason for the change.
 
HISD contracted with Southwest Wholesale, Houston Grotech, Silversand and two other firms for landscaping and irrigation services.

***
Contact Mike Cronin at mike@texaswatchdog.org or 713-228-2850. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelccronin. Contact Jennifer Peebles at jennifer@texaswatchdog.org or 281-656-1681. Follow her on Twitter at @jpeebles or @texaswatchdog. 

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Photo by flickr user sacks08, used via a Creative Commons license.

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Comments
Pomegranate Ralph
Tuesday, 08/30/2011 - 10:30AM

At first glance, this is outrageous. Looking again, maybe this is just how things are done at HISD. So, HISD -- the exception? or the modus operandi?

And while we figure that out, will someone shush the kids with their standardized tests and their crowded classrooms, 'cause all the money's gone...

Ray Ray
Wednesday, 08/31/2011 - 02:29PM

I think this is only the tip ofthe iceberg. According to the article they let this guy rebid and he still wasn't the lowest bidder. Is Gary Hogg getting a kickback? Does ex football star Anthony Hutchison know somebody in HISD or on the school board? What is Issa Dadoush's involvement? The schools listed are in the poor areas of town. Why are the rich schools serviced by HISD and teh poor ones get this contractor with 15 year old equipment?

Brian B
Thursday, 09/01/2011 - 02:18PM

Lies

Looking for Answers
Friday, 09/02/2011 - 09:22AM

Supposedly Gary Hogg is a "Senior" Buyer? That means he has some seniority, and this is how he spends taxpayers money? Sounds like he needs to go!

Voice of Reasoning
Friday, 09/02/2011 - 03:11PM

Sounds like that audit needs to start with Gary Hogg if he's handing out contracts to the high bidders. Maybe that's what Brian Busby and Issa Dadoush told him to do it and that's why he's "sending himself emails" as a CYA, or is that so he can docter the emails later to point the blame someplace else? Any way you look at it, this clown sounds slippery.

Lazer
Friday, 09/02/2011 - 08:45PM

If you look at Hutchison's original price for the South grounds, you will see its almost 200k higher than the revised price that came 2 months after the sealed bid was opened. The provided documents show purchase orders for clean up of the ABM property managed schools. Those properties were left in excellent condition. Hogg and Busby are funneling extra money to Southwest Nursery. Where dows Busby know Hutchinson from?

Appalled
Saturday, 09/03/2011 - 01:10PM

"Hogg getting Kickbacks"? Maybe that's how a lowly public education servant can afford to drive a fancy BMW and live in the Woodlands. Better he waste Houston's money than ours up here!

What are the low bidders saying about this fiasco? This is the kind of waste that needs to be dealt with by cutting out the cancer. Whos' watching over this mess anyway? Isn't Garrett watching over anything anymore?

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