There are serious questions being raised about a construction project in Tarrant County and whether the county violated its own rules.
The project involved a dangerous curve that was causing fatalities.
The construction company that did the work denies any wrongdoing. A former county crew member believes documents show wrongdoing on the part of the county. Tarrant County officials are investigating.
The construction project involves a stretch of road along Rendon Bloodworth Road in Southeast Tarrant County.
The project was completed a year ago but just last month Tarrant County officials were out in full force taking measurements, and closely examining the work. Officials even brought out heavy equipment.
Officials are not talking other than to say they are now investigating after allegations surfaced about the contract.
"This is saying the contractor is responsible to furnish and install the safety slope ends," said a former county worker who did not want his face shown. The worker, who resigned from the county, fears retaliation. He says the bid shows the construction company would pay for the safety slope ends, which are drainage culverts at a cost of $14,000 but he claims that did not happen.
"The county bought the safety slope ends, we rented a crane and set them, the county workers set them and R.D. was paid the full amount for this bid," said the worker.
RD Howard Construction is the company that won the contract and did the work.
Fox 4 filed an open records request and got the same documents the worker showed us.
"I have never given or paid any kickback," said Randle Howard, President of R.D. Howard Construction. Howard denied any wrongdoing two weeks in a row before Tarrant County Commissioners. He also sat down with Fox 4.
"Don't have anything to hide, did everything I was supposed to do," said Howard.
Howard told Fox 4 after the contract was awarded, there was a pre-construction meeting with Tarrant County officials and a state inspector and the scope of the work changed. The Texas Department of Transportation inspector wanted additional work done so the county agreed to pick up the cost of the slope ends.
"We agreed if the county would furnish and set into place those items, we would do the other work without extra compensation," said Howard. "That is what everyone agreed to and that is what we did."
Howard sent an email to Precinct 1 supervisor, T.C. Webster outlining the changes and agreement. There is also an internal memo from the Tarrant County Purchasing Department that states Precinct 1 was supplying the sloping ends for the project.
It is dated 5 weeks after the May 24, 2012 meeting. So if changes were made to the project, why didn't the county put the job back out for bid or why wasn't there a change order to the original contract?
"That sounds like a pretty major change in the scope of the work?" questioned Becky Oliver.
"On a job this size, that is pretty significant," said Howard. "Most times an actual formal document is prepared and issued, yes."
Records show Howard was also paid another $5,775.00 for a slab added to a private driveway. The driveway raises more questions about work on private property and whether the county is following proper procedures.
"I don't have any control over what goes on inside the county," said Howard. "All I know is that I did my job and I did not do anything wrong."
Last month, Fox 4 reported on another questionable project in Precinct 1.
Fox 4 watched county crews working all day to take down a fence on private property. Commissioner Roy Brooks told Fox 4 it was a recommendation from the Tarrant County District Attorney's office.
"Before we undertook the project, we cleared it with the district attorney's office, they cleared it," said Brooks.
Later Brooks admitted the DA's approval was for another project involving trees but not a fence.
"It borders on the absurd," said David Brooks, an expert on county government.
David Brooks told Fox 4 he did not believe the county could use tax dollars to remove a fence on private property.
Emails show the fence job was set up after the ranch manager contacted supervisor T.C. Webster and asked for the county to consider assisting with fence removal.
"Is this just another example of what is going on in that office?" Oliver asked the former employee.
"Most definitely," said the source. "I don't want my job back. I don't hate the people but what is right is right and what is wrong is wrong. Knowing how bold they are, never being questioned, never being held responsible for their actions."
When government contracts are involved, there are checks and balances in place to help control fraud and ensure taxpayers are getting their money's worth. The documents from this road project have been turned over to law enforcement outside the county. Tarrant County officials are expected to turn over the results of their investigations to commissioners on Tuesday.
A press release was sent to Fox 4 on Monday. The release came from a firm that says it does strategic political communication consulting. The release says Commissioner Brooks is pleased with the project reviews and adds his office will be implementing the auditor's recommendations immediately. Fox 4 asked the county's spokesman why Commissioner Brooks was responding to a third party about the report. The spokesman said he knew nothing about the news release.
Commissioner Brook's comments about the investigation:
From: ADVISORY [ADVISORY@ammpolitical.com]
Sent: Monday, July 15, 2013 12:26 PM
Subject: Statement from Commissioner Roy C. Brooks, Precinct 1
Tarrant County Auditor's Office and Tarrant County Administrator Confirm Legal Conduct in Rendon-Bloodworth Road-FM 1187 Project
TARRANT COUNTY (July 15, 2013) – Commissioner Roy C. Brooks, who withheld comments on a road project in Precinct 1, said Monday he is pleased that project reviews by Auditor and County Administrator confirm work was completed with no wrong doing. Recommendations for similar large road projects will be implemented to continue the Commissioner's and staff commitment to transparency and accountability.
The reviews provide additional recommendations for more detailed vendor protocols for documenting project change orders and work coordinated with contract vendors to assist staff in documenting complicated and unusual County projects like those reviewed.
"We are of course pleased to see confirmation by the auditor's report that taxpayer dollars were used appropriately," Commissioner Brooks said. "But it was clear from the County Administrator's report that some paperwork and formal processes could be improved and the county should have obtained a right-of-way easement prior to performing the work on private property.
"We will implement these recommendations immediately," Brooks said. "The audit staff has done an excellent job that will assist our team in demonstrating clearly to taxpayers the pride we all take in our work to earn their trust."
A review by the Tarrant County Auditor's office found "no evidence of duplicate or improper payments made to a vendor." Their report goes on regarding media reports about a specific contractor: "In response to the allegations made toward R.D. Howard Construction, we found no evidence of wrongdoing."
The auditor did conclude that some changes need to be made in regard to construction change process and tighter documentation of construction changes in projects. Additionally, the auditor recommended improve documentation processes be put in place and the county plans to follow those recommendations.
"We are going to work together to resolve the human resource matters addressed in these reports, as Precinct 1 remains committed to transparency and accountability," Commissioner Roy Brooks, Precinct 1 said.
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