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Progress in contracting Ardurra Group, Inc. as an engineering firm for the county came to a halt Wednesday morning after Precinct 4 Commissioner Jose Asuncion questioned Frio County Judge Arnulfo Luna’s readiness to hire the company. Asuncion quizzed the judge during a Wednesday, June 2, commissioners’ court meeting, citing the ‘irregular time and day’ and noting the agenda was posted on a holiday weekend. Within seconds of reading the agenda, Luna made the motion to sign a resolution for professional services by Ardurra Group, Inc., formerly known as LNV Engineering. “I have some questions,” Asuncion said. “Did you read the contract? Comm. [Raul] Carrizales and Judge seem to have their minds made up and have a foregone conclusion.” “Mine is not,” the Pct. 3 commissioner said. “The meeting was just a quick briefing of what they could offer. I am going to reserve my opinion until the vote is cast.” Asuncion expressed concerns over the way the contract was presented to the county. “The contract reads like a blank check,” the commissioner said. “That is concern number one. It is not as thorough as other master service agreements.” The commissioner sought clarification on the judge’s change in opinion of the engineering firm, bringing up former conversations between the two about the company’s reputation.
“LNV does not have the best reputation,” Asuncion said. “And, Judge, I have comments from former conversations where you have said that they were ‘milking the city of Pearsall,’ and ‘I don’t trust that company.’” The county judge defended his position, citing the firm’s work with three previous projects including the million-dollar project in Precinct 4. Asuncion alleged that Luna had not been satisfied with the work done. He believes the dissatisfaction has prompted commissioners not to contract LNV for engineering services since 2016. Ardurra Group Project Manager Rick Garcia, who also served as LNV project manager, defended the company’s position on the project. “The road was already designed,” Garcia said. “We came in to see if the road was done properly. We oversaw the construction and put out the bid.” Asuncion also expressed his discontent with the company’s work and with what he described as Garcia’s work ethic. The commissioner showed a clip from a Sept. 10, 2019 Pearsall council meeting at which Garcia alleged that a city project was delayed due to Luna not completing projects he had committed to. “Mr. Garcia, during a city of Pearsall meeting about the drainage issue on 1581, you said it was not done because you had asked Luna to get something done and it was not done,” the commissioner said. Asuncion demonstrated a video clip from the 2019 meeting at which Garcia told councilors the project was held up due to debris on the county side of the drainage ditch, causing the water to run slowly. Following the meeting, city officials and Garcia concluded the drainage ditch belonged to the city but learned that the city did not have funds to pay for debris clean-up. “You lied,” the commissioner said. “Now you guys [Garcia and Luna] are paired up with one another? It reflected on us that we were not working with the city. Yes, you lied to the city council.” LNV terminated its contract with the city following the meeting. Luna defended his notion that another engineering firm would be beneficial to the county. “We need help for the engineer we have,” Luna said. “She cannot even keep up with the work she has now.” Frio County Engineer Roxanna Garcia said she wants to look at the situation in a constructive matter and admitted the county could use assistance with project drawings. “The consensus at the time, two years ago, was not to use that firm [LNV],” the engineer said. The engineer said the county opted to seek a request for qualifications (RFQ); three firms submitted qualifications and LNV was not one of them. The county is required to follow a procurement policy in order to receive grant funds from the state. County officials chose to contract two companies, S&B Infrastructure and Poznecki-Camarillo. Gessner Engineering, the third company to submit an RFQ during the original request, was recently contracted by the county but has not done any work. “TxDOT requires all the documentation go through the procurement policy; LNV did not do that, so the answer is a flat ‘no’ for grant projects,” the engineer said. “We were held up on a map project because LNV was not clear on boundaries. In addition, the Texas engineering board does not allow the same engineering firm to work with both the city and county on the same project.” Garcia alleged the company did not update the entire map of the city but completed the meets and bounds for a 2018 annexation, a job that was done free of charge. Pearsall City Manager Federico Reyes has sent an email message supporting Roxanna Garcia’s claim that LNV did not update the city’s boundary map following the 2018 annexation. “The most recent map we have for the entire city limits dates back to 2002-03,” Reyes wrote in the Monday afternoon message. Reyes raised concerns at a June 2 meeting over the city not having any documentation supporting the work done by LNV for the annexation map. “My question for the past year has been, what is the scope of work?” Reyes said. “What did the council direct LNV to do? The meeting was held behind closed doors; we would have loved to see something on paper, as far as these maps. I would like to see a comprehensive map. I do not know, aside from listening to Mr. Garcia, if we paid for that. I still do not have the scope of work in writing for that particular project.” “That is because it was done pro bono,” Garica said. “It was limited to that area that needed to be annexed at that time. We only did what was on the map that I sent yesterday with the meets and bounds. The base map was not touched.” County legal counsel Joseph Sindon agreed that grant funding would not be available for projects that the Ardurra Group took part in – should the county agree to a contract – because the firm did not complete the procurement guidelines. Sindon asked whether the previous contract with LNV survived the acquisition by Ardurra Group. “I cannot verify because I do not have a record of it,” the county engineer said. “Ninety-five percent of the time, I cannot find documentation because the previous administration did not have the same standards of record keeping as I do.” The county engineer said she felt it was unethical and unprofessional that no one reached out to her because she is the county engineer. “I do take my job and I do take my position here very seriously,” the engineer said. “I need to be included in those conversations. What was the urgency to get them on board, where was the budget? Nothing has been planned appropriately and none of those conversations have been had, with me at least, to give advice. Let us go through the process.” Pct. 1 Comm. Joe Vela quizzed the engineer over current projects and areas within the county he feels need immediate attention, noting he feels Garcia may be overwhelmed. “The perception around here it is going to cost $100,000 to fix roads,” the engineer said. “These major road projects and bridge projects could go up into the millions. We are finishing things. We are not advertising that we have completed the projects. The main focus before was to blade roads, but we weren’t seal-coating, not mowing, not cleaning drainage. Now we have put together two special crews, a road crew that has twelve people. Before we were getting written up by TxDOT for not maintaining the bridges.” Garcia told commissioners that before she took the job as county engineer, only three to five miles per year of county roads were being seal-coated. The average for rural counties, she said, is 25 to 30 miles per year. According to the engineer, the county has already completed four miles and Garcia is hoping to hit 20 miles by the end of the season. Commissioners chose to take no action on the agenda item.