AP NEWS

Lawsuit stops contract award; Waste contractor challenges bidding process

May 8, 2019

A lawsuit filed Monday against the city and its commission about a waste collection contract levies numerous allegations, including that one city commissioner stood to profit by denying one company’s bid while alleging another voted against the same contract because the company did not donate to his election campaign.

Brownsville GMS filed suit against the City of Brownsville, Mayor Tony Martinez, City Commissioners Rose M. Z. Gowen, Ricardo Longoria Jr., Jessica Tetreau, Joel Munguia, Ben Neece and former Commissioner Cesar De León at midnight Monday seeking to stop the commission form taking action on an item to award a waste collection contract Tuesday afternoon.

City Manager Noel Bernal confirmed Tuesday morning that the action item will not be considered because a judge granted a temporary restraining order.

At issue is a 2016 contract for commercial and industrial waste collection GMS won in 2016 after an extensive request for proposal process.

This is the contract that City Commissioners have taken up several times this year, though commissioners haven’t publicly named the parties involved during public hearings or in public agenda documents.

Most recently, according to the litigation, the City Commission cancelled a second request for proposal process at its April 16 meeting and directed the city manager to “identify a qualified provider” and directly negotiate a commercial waste and industrial solid disposal services contract subject to City Commission approval.

“Such action is unprecedented in Brownsville,” the lawsuit states. “Although not publicly announced, GMS learned shortly after the April 16th meeting from the City Manager that Brownsville is negotiating a contract with Republic Services.”

That contract was scheduled to be announced Tuesday.

The litigation specifically takes aim at commissioners De León and Tetreau.

In the now-infamous recording of De León taken by former fire chief Carlos Elizondo, who is facing two separate indictments to which he has pleaded not guilty, the former commissioner speaks about stopping GMS, according to the lawsuit.

“I’m going to tell you one thing (inaudible) $10,000 contract and I see it man. I saw the one with GMS (inaudible) I see and how it is. GMS didn’t donate money to me. But they gave Charlie $15,000. Do you think one doesn’t find out? Do you think that the people doesn’t find out? Do you think that the people doesn’t question it,” the lawsuit quotes De León as saying on the Elizondo recording.

According to GMS, these statements make it clear that the former commissioner intentionally interfered with the request for proposal process and the contract because GMS did not donate to his campaign.

GMS also alleges that Tetreau had an undisclosed interest in the request for proposal process as well.

“Her husband, Arturo Kalifa, is one of two members of JAAGS, LLC d/b/a/ Carwash Plus, a local Brownsville car wash which has a valuable contract to wash Republic Services’ trucks,” the lawsuit states. “Were Republic Services to win the contract for Brownsville’s commercial and industrial trash collection, it would need to expand its fleet of trucks to perform the work. These new trucks would need washing, and Tetreau would stand to benefit from the increased revenue to her husband’s business.”

Texas Local Government Code requires public officials who have substantial interest in a business entity to file an affidavit stating the nature and extent of that official’s interest and to abstain from further participation when the action will have a special economic effect on the business entity that is distinguishable from its effect on the public, according to the lawsuit.

“Upon information and belief, Tetreau filed no such affidavit at any time regarding her interest in her husband’s business and its connection with Republic Services and the RFP process,” the lawsuit states.

The litigation also accuses the City Commission of skirting Texas Open Records laws and stacking the deck against GMS by releasing confidential bidding information to Redfish via a Texas Public Information Act request before starting the second proposal request.

GMS also accuses the city of revising its scoring and evaluation system for the express and targeted purposes of handicapping GMS.

On Monday, 445th state District Judge Gloria Rincones signed the temporary restraining order, and ordered De León, Tetreau and a representative from the city to give testimony by deposition on or before May 17.

Visiting Judge Robert C. Pate is scheduled to preside over a temporary injunction hearing on May 20 at 8:30 a.m.

mreagan@brownsvilleherald.com