Editor’s Note: This is the first part of a two-part series based on an interview conducted with Brown County Judge Ray West.
From the outside looking in, one could infer that something isn’t right in the competitive bidding process for the lease of the Brown County Juvenile Justice Center, formerly known as Unit 2 of the Ron Jackson State School.
With all the questions and allegations regarding the approval of the lease, Brown County Judge Ray West wanted to assure residents of the facts.
G4S, the company awarded the lease during the March 14 commissioners court meeting, started advertising for positions at the facility in the March 3 edition of the Bulletin, which has a Sunday classified advertising deadline of 3 p.m. on Friday.
“I didn’t put that in the paper, nor did I tell them to,” West said. “I had nothing to do with that. They probably did that to see how strong the employment base is in Brownwood. They’ve never done business in Brownwood. They need to know.”
Earlier in the week, West spoke with Jim Hill from G4S and Hill commented on the employment advertisements.
“He told me, ‘thanks to those ads, we now know how strong the employment base is — now that the bid has been approved, we can start the interview process,’” West said. “No one has been hired yet.”
During a juvenile law conference in San Antonio held the week of Feb. 11, West saw Kent Moe, the executive director of Rite of Passage, and debated on whether he should approach him about the bids the county was seeking for Unit 2. At that time, Rite of Passage had not contacted the county for the requirements for the bid.
“When I saw Kent at the conference, I approached him and asked him if he was aware that bids are due on the Ron Jackson Unit 2 building March 1,” West said. “He was unaware and I told him we would really like to have a bid from him. I personally solicited a bid from Rite of Passage — does that sound like a rigged bid? Within the week he called the office to get the requirements. If I were rigging the bid for G4S, I would have never solicited a bid from Ken.”
Commissioners received two bids for the lease, one from G4S and the other from Rite of Passage; both were opened and discussed during the March 4 meeting. After reading the bids, commissioners rejected the bid from Rite of Passage and asked G4S to make corrections to their bid.
“Rite of Passage’s bid was rejected because it contained a condition in which the county had no control,” West said. “We sent both companies the requirements for the bid and lease and the Rite of Passage bid was submitted conditionally.”
In a letter attached to Rite of Passage’s bid, the company stated, “This letter and lease is contingent upon Rite of Passage being awarded a contract from the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD) to provide secure residential specialized program services through a competitive biding process, successful negotiations with TJJD regarding the optimal location of the facility for its at-risk youth, and successful negotiations with Brown County regarding the facility.”
“Rite of Passage’s bid was essentially a promise to I promise,’” West said. “The bid [from G4S] was in good form but some of the items needed to be corrected and they were corrected within 48 hours and their bid complied with the specs provided.”
Contract workers are installing walls, floors and a new reception area in what use to be a recreation room in Unit 2 on March 4, but they are working for Brown County, not G4S.
“There are two distinct aspects of the Brown County Juvenile Justice Center,” Brown County Judge Ray West said. “The part being leased, and the part that the county will continue to occupy.”
While a majority of the space of Unit 2 is included on the lease, there are five offices, a conference room, a reception area and six to eight holding cells that will remain under Brown County’s control, West said. In order to better separate the two entities, construction needed to be done in order to make a clear barrier between the two.
“We will still have the juvenile probation offices and county hold over facility in Unit 2,” West said. “The lease is not for the entire building, it’s for everything outside of our offices.”
J.R. Williams, former juvenile probation chief, had previously disclosed to the court the work that needed to be completed and even informed the court he was able to find the funds needed to complete the project if they could find a contractor who would do the work for the funds available, West said.
“J.R. was able to allot funds of almost $50,000 to fund this project,” West said. “We managed to find a contractor who would complete the work within that budget.”
When G4S personnel visited the facility the first week of February, an independent contractor offered to complete the probation office’s work within the amount available.
West said, “I made it clear to the contractor that this project [probation office] was independent of the G4S bid and if G4S failed to get the bid then his only work would be the probation offices.”
A question was raised whether or not West had the legal authority to hire the contractor for the project.
“I have approached the county attorney and counsel for the Texas Association of Counties and they both confirmed that I had that authority,” West said. “Department heads may make those decisions. As the chairman of the Brown County Juvenile Board, I had the legal authority to hire the contractor for the probation office work.”