EDINBURG — The council here settled for a total of about $3.6 million for shoddy construction linked to three city buildings, and members are not happy that the attorneys who represented the city in the settlement cases took the bulk of the money.
“Back in 2014, the city council hired the law firms of Norman Jolly, Felipe Garcia and Eric Jarvis to investigate and evaluate some construction issues related to various city buildings,” Edinburg City Attorney Rick Gonzales said during a city meeting last week. “Those items have all been settled this year.”
The settlements stemmed from construction deficiencies found at the Dustin Michael Sekula Memorial Library, the Edinburg Solid Waste Management facility and Edinburg City Hall, though the buildings do not appear to have been built by the same contractor, according to information found on the agenda packet.
“The unfortunate thing is the majority of the award was for attorney’s fees, which are not recoverable,” Gonzalez said. “The city ain’t going to see any of that money.”
Damages to the library include a faulty roof, a deficient HVAC installation, poor drainage and fire code issues, among other things, according to a May 11 memo from attorney Norman Jolly, whose firm estimated it would take about $2.4 million to repair the building.
“There was an arbitration hearing on that matter, and the city was awarded about $1.5 million,” Gonzales reported. “The unfortunate thing is that about $700,000 of that award was attorney’s fees. And that I know of, there’s no insurance that covers the payment of attorney’s fees.”
The issue is further complicated because the contractor, Texas Descon, has since gone under.
“I think the recovery is going to be in the neighborhood of maybe $600,000 — that’s a gross recovery,” Gonzales said. “The council does have a contract with the attorneys and the attorneys are going to get about 40 percent, so you probably will end up, I figure, with a little over $200,000.”
Councilman Gilbert Enriquez said he and other council members previously toured the library, which has yet to be repaired, and immediately saw a need for remediation.
“I mean there’s just a lot of issues with that building,” he said, adding he was not happy about the way the previous council handled the issue.
“I think the logical thing that should have happened was that the city (go) in and repair all the problems, all the deficiencies. Then you have a concrete amount … that gives you an actual cost,” he said. “But for whatever reason this was done backwards and we’re not even getting close — not even a quarter of what we need — to repair that building.
“But yet the attorneys are getting half of the amount? I mean that, in itself, is just ridiculous.”
Joe Williamson Construction Co., of Pharr, appears to have been the contractor for the solid waste management facility, according to documents in the agenda packet.
Attorneys for the city found that the pre-engineered metal buildings were designed without a structural engineer and reported issues with the top surface of the concrete “popping out,” according to Jolly’s memo. His firm estimated it would take about $1.3 million to remediate the facility.
“The contractor in that case also went under,” Gonzales said, “so the only money that is being recovered is from an insurance company.”
The city settled for about $1.2 million, but after Jolly’s 40 percent cut and covering his expenses, which totaled about $105,000, the city will only be able to recover about half of the total settlement, or about $614,000, Gonzales said.
“So he gets half?” Enriquez asked rhetorically. “Now that’s a good deal — kind of like the Bert Ogden Arena.”
Information about the damages associated with city hall could not be found on the agenda packet. The facility was constructed by Enriquez Enterprises, a family-owned company tied to Enriquez.
“On city hall, that was settled for $927,500,” Gonzalez said before turning his attention once more to Jolly. “He had also a 40 percent contingency on that, and he has expenses of almost $133,000. So the net recovery is roughly $435,000.”
Edinburg leaders hope to combine the settlement monies to repair the library’s leaky roof, which poses a threat to the equipment, as well as the staff and members of the public who frequent the facility.
“I mean, I could just imagine how much water came in this last episode that we had of rain,” Enriquez said. “For me, we need to rectify this issue at the library as quickly as possible.”
New Edinburg City Manager Pilar Rodriguez said, “You’re correct,” adding: “During the rainstorm event two or three weeks ago, the library staff did have to take some extraordinary efforts to protect equipment, and publications, and things they had in the facility. So it is highest on priority right now.”