2014-04-02 / Editorial & Columns


$65 million lawsuit sets off editor’s BS detector
By Paul Whitworth,
editor & publisher

I didn't intend to write an editorial this week. I really didn't, but something happened that set off my BS detector--- and so I had no choice.

Heaven knows that I wouldn't want our readers to get the wrong idea about me -- that I am opinionated, but some crazy things go on in this county that can not be ignored.

On March 7, Willacy County filed a $65 million lawsuit against Hale-Mills Construction Company, the Houston based company that built the county jail and the INS Detention Center and Management & Training Corp, the company that managed the facility.

According to the lawsuit filed by Ramon Garcia, of Edinburg, the legal action was taken to protect the taxpayers of Willacy County from the "potential" loss of hundreds of well-paying jobs, millions of dollars of income and the threat of the county being saddled with tens of million of dollars of public debt.

According to the lawsuit the building is a total wreck and was built using shoddy construction techniques, substandard materials, improper drainage, dangerous electrical wiring and a deficient sewage system.

The only real solution according to the lawsuit is to tear down the INS Dentention Center which is now operated by the United States Bureau of Prisons and to start over with a new building.

Most people who read this newspaper know about the leaky roof and that roof was recently repaired at a cost of $518,000 by the county. If-Hale-Mills is unwilling to reimburse the county for that expenditure, they deserve to be sued. But, until now, I have not heard of the laundry list of items wrong with the builder's work.

Because the Willacy County Jail is included in the lawsuit list of construction flaws I called Sheriff Larry Spence and asked him about his experiences in the 10 years he has been in the new facility.

The sheriff said they have experienced a few problems, of the sort one would expect in a new building, some roof leaks which were fixed and a couple of loose windows, "but nothing that would affect the operation of our department".

To me this looks like a deal cooked up between County Judge John Gonzales and the lawyers. The lawsuit was brought to the attention of the county commissioners and to county attorney Bernard Ammerman by Chronicle/News reporter Tony Vindell. None of these folks knew anything about the county's $65 million lawsuit.

The legal action was discussed behind closed doors at a special county meeting on April 1, three weeks after Ramon Garcia filed the lawsuit on the county's behalf.

Meanwhile, rumor has it that Judge Gonzales plans to take a job with Ramon Garcia's law firm when he leaves office on December 31.

Two questions: * Have you ever heard of someone suing for $65 million for something that might "potentially happen?"

(I refer to the possible loss of jobs resulting from a possible shut down of the facility because of the alleged building deficiences?) * And who will ever want to build anything in Willacy County again if they can be sued for $65 million 10 years after construction has been completed?

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