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Texas Education Agency rules Corpus Christi ISD trustees violated state bidding law
Monday, Jul 16, 2012, 04:50PM CST
By Curt Olson
corpus

The Professional Services Procurement Act does not get a lot of attention.

However, the Texas Education Agency determined late last week Corpus Christi Independent School District trustees violated it nearly a year ago when the board chose an architecture-engineering team to design a new middle school, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times reports.

“The board of trustees and administration did not provide documentation to TEA auditors that showed that the final selection of the architectural firm was based strictly upon demonstrated competence and qualifications,” wrote Sonya Etheridge, director of TEA’s Division of Financial Audits.

The seven-page report notes a “lack of evidence” that Gignac & Associates of Corpus Christi  and PBK Architects Inc. of San Antonio were chosen based on competence and qualifications.

At issue is a CCISD board meeting in August 2011 when trustees conducted interviews of three different teams of architects to design a middle school. They made their choice of Gignac/PBK primarily based on money, the report states.

The problem is not that they considered price, but when that consideration happened.

The Procurement Act requires public bodies to first select the firm, or firms, offering a professional service based on competence and qualifications. Then they talk about price in the process of negotiating a contract.

The Gignac/PBK team at the August meeting talked about savings it could provide the district based on its existing deal to build a new high school. TEA auditors said representatives of Gignac/PBK noted potential savings of $2.3 million to $2.8 million. They said there were another $100,000 to $135,000 in savings to be had because the firms would have both school projects.

Etheridge wrote Corpus Christi ISD trustees should have considered the  cumulative scores of the design teams in the two phases of reviews to determine which teams would be called for final interviews. The report shows this prevented trustees from doing final interviews with teams that had higher total scores than Gignac/PBK.

The TEA report was prompted by a complaint from more than 100 architects and engineers.

The law “is really supposed to protect the public and help them get the best quality in a fair and honest selection process,” one of the complainants, architect David Richter, told the Caller-Times. “Because of that it’s very important for the public interest to have a law that’s upheld.”

The contract dispute also has the Gignac/PBK team in trouble with the Texas Board of Architectural Examiners, the Caller-Times has reported.

The TBAE staff has recommended that four architects with the firms have their licenses suspended for six months and take six hours of ethics training. The four team members would also face fines of $25,000 to $30,000, if the recommendation is backed by the architects’ board in August. There’s also a possibility it could be headed to the State Office of Administrative Hearings, the Caller-Times reported recently.

TBAE spokesman Glenn Garry told Texas Watchdog that agency leaders can’t cite another case in recent memory that involved this law. TEA spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson said TEA officials have difficulty finding the last case like this.

CCISD Superintendent Scott Elliff stood by his board’s actions.

“I believe our board was operating in such a way that they felt they were making the best decision for the district and the taxpayers,” Elliff told the Caller-Times.

The board must submit a corrective action plan to TEA July 23 to prevent violations in the future.

***
Contact Curt Olson at curt@texaswatchdog.org or 512-557-3800. Follow him on Twitter @olson_curt.

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Photo of Corpus Christi skyline by flickr user Cliff1066, used via a Creative Commons license.

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