City council members say they want to know what progress has been made on city projects funded by money borrowed over the past four years.
Council members questioned City Manager Matt Wojnowski about those projects during a June 25 work session, beginning with the lack of progress on renovations planned for the city’s Paul Poag Theatre.
Wojnowski initiated the discussion, reminding council members he had discussed budget revenues and projections and the city’s capital improvement plan (CIP) during their May 21 work session.
He also reminded council members they had asked him and his staff to look at certificates of obligation (COs) the city had outstanding and report on what progress had been made on projects funded by those COs.
Wojnowski then reviewed the COs for the last several years, beginning with the CO Series 2015 funds.
The first project the city manager addressed was work planned for the Paul Poag Theatre, which included renovations of the facility’s restrooms, which were scheduled to be part of a multi-facility project, according to the notes presented to the council. The monies set aside for the theater from the COs were also to be used to replace some ceiling tiles and work on the facility’s air conditioning system.
“We were unsuccessful in some other restroom projects through the parks. One idea was to group more restroom projects together to have a bigger project to get some bids. So that’s the thought process on the restroom portion of that,” Wojnowski told the council.
“I guess my first question is ... why is it taking three or four years after we got the money to come up with that plan?” asked Councilman Jim DeReus.
“You’ll have various responses from city staff on reasons why the money hasn’t been spent, and it’ll vary on each project,” the city manager replied.
Wojnowksi said Leno Hernandez, the Paul Poag Theatre manager, was present to answer any questions about the proposed theater renovations.
City Finance Director Gilbert Sanchez confirmed none of the $150,000 set aside for the theater renovations has been spent.
“So none of that has been spent, and it’s been four years since we borrowed it, and we’ve been paying interest (on that money) for four years,” DeReus said.
“That’s correct,” Sanchez said.
“That doesn’t make any sense,” DeReus said.
“Well, sometimes you just can’t get bids,” Councilman Rowland Garza said.
DeReus asked Hernandez about the bidding process for the renovations.
“First, we asked for the money with a plan in place,” Hernandez said. “And so when that plan was put in place, the money was awarded, and by the time we were given the money, we started going through – I hate to say it like this – but we started going through the red tape that comes with any kind of purchasing. The procurement process comes into play; the request for proposals comes into play; different philosophies came into play.”
DeReus asked when the process “fizzled out.”
“It’s continuing. It’s still going on,” Hernandez said.
“So we put this out for bids multiple times?” DeReus asked.
“We have bids. We have bids for that work. We’ve had bids for that work,” Hernandez replied.
“So where in the process is the breakdown? Because clearly, there’s a problem with the process if we’ve tried it multiple times, and we still can’t get it done four years after the fact,” DeReus said.
“Correct, right,” Hernandez replied.
“We have to look at the process,” DeReus said. “We need to speed up these processes.”
“We all agree with that, sir, and I wish I could give you an explanation that’s not long and drawn out, but they’re going to be,” Hernandez said.
“I think what we’re trying to get at, and, Leno, it’s not your fault, because I’ve had this conversation with you before, but where has the breakdown been? Has it been in procurement or has it been at the city manager’s office, when whoever was in charge, when you went through the process? Where has it been?” Councilman Alfredo “Fred” Carranza Jr. asked.
“In fairness, Leno doesn’t work for the council. I think our city manager needs to address that,” Garza interjected.
Then, he said to Wojnowski, “Where, in your observation, has the biggest issue been? You’re the man in charge, and we need to figure out where the breakdown is, and how do we correct this from happening again? Let’s fix it.”
“I hope this project wasn’t stalled because somebody just didn’t want to do it. It’s not the council’s fault, because the council was in favor of doing this,” Garza added.
Sanchez replied it was his understanding that part of the design from engineering for the renovations “was not ADA-compliant,” and staff was having a hard time getting the designs.
“If we knew we were short, and it wasn’t ADA (compliant), and it was exceeding our budget, we should have just asked for more funds,” Garza said.
“I hate to be so political about it, but the reality is that it becomes a little philosophical. We had a different administration before, and we had an assistant city manager from Eagle Pass who wouldn’t allow any of this to happen, and her view was completely different . . . She said if we were going to do any renovations to the Paul Poag Theatre we were going to do full ADA compliance. That was her philosophy,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez also said he “did not have the full attention” at the time of the city administrators needed to move the renovation project forward.
“It’s not on the top list of priorities. Council’s worried about the million-dollar projects, not the $100,000 projects,” Hernandez said.
“Council should be worried about all the projects, especially if we have the money and are paying interest on money we borrowed three, four, five, six years back,” Councilwoman Diana Bejarano Salgado said.
Salgado told Hernandez if he was not being heard, he “could always come before the council.”
“I appreciate that, but I also trust in the administration, that if I’m at a place of priority, it’s for a reason, and it’s only my job to keep on bringing it up and getting it there,” he said.
Following the meeting and in response to a request by the Del Rio News-Herald that he address the planned theater renovations, Wojnowski made the following statement:
“We appreciate and share the council’s concern about older funded projects that have not been completed yet, including the renovation project at the historic Paul Poag Theatre. City staff’s review of the outstanding Certificate of Obligation (CO) funded projects has revived these projects including a plan to complete the Paul Poag Theatre renovations in a timely fashion, with agenda items presented at a city council meeting in the very near future. We look forward to the progress and improvements at the distinct Paul Poag Theatre. An additional major benefit to the review of CO projects was a reduction in next year’s Capital Improvement Plan by nearly $3 million.”