Yesterday, at a forum for Austin's Mayoral and City Council candidates, Mayor Lee Leffingwell asked a question of challenger Brigid Shea regarding how much money she has received in city contracts awarded to her since leaving the council in 1996. This question has been slowly circulating in conversation among city activists and the press and it's somewhat surprising (given the information we are posting today) that no one one has publicly written on this topic.
In response Leffingwell's question, Shea replied "Less than the Mayor makes... about $40,000 a year."
Based upon information publicly available, we have been able to account for over $500,000 in City of Austin contracts that have indeed been awarded to her consulting firm Shea & Associates as a subcontractor on a number of the city's major water and wastewater projects. We have compiled these contracts below (amounts with an * are estimates based upon the % of the total allocated to the subcontract).
|Project||Date Considered ||Dates Covered ||Amount ||Source |
|Clean Water Program||10/11/01||2001-2009||$434,050|| Link|
|Clean Water Program||10/11/01||2008-2009||$38,500|| Link|
|Barton Creek Lift Station||11/21/02 ||2002||$38,500|| Link|
|Watershed Engineering ||01/25/07 ||2007 ||$17,750* || Link|
|Waller Creek Tunnel ||Unknown ||2010 ||Unknown || Link|
|S I-35 Water/Wastewater ||11/08/07 (not approved) ||2007 ||$30,000* || Link|
|Travis Water Treatment Plant ||04/04/02 (not approved)||2002 ||$45,500*|| Link|
Let me first say that for a candidate who has put transparency and environmental policy front and center in her campaign, particularly after last year's heated city council election on similar issues, it is surprising that this information hasn't yet been reported elsewhere. Maybe that speaks to the apparent lack of energy among city voters as is being reported by the campaigns who in the field already. It is true that we have seen lower participation in organizational endorsements as compared to those held last month for the Democratic primary. With redistricting messing up the election calendar, this very well could be a case of voter fatigue.
But even if that's true, it is our responsibility in the media to write about the facts regardless of how disinterested the electorate might be. And the facts in this case include a very major one that hasn't yet been talked about.
Take a look at the last line in the chart above. Do you see a project that sounds familiar?
Brigid Shea participated in the losing bid to build Austin's 4th Water Treatment Plant as a sub-consultant for communications and public relations.The competing bids can be downloaded HERE and I've highlighted the key line item from the document below.
As a public relations sub-consultant, Shea would have been tasked with advocating on behalf of the Water Treatment Plant. That includes supporting its construction, arguing for the need to increase in water treatment capacity, and advancing many of the same arguments made by supporters of WTP4 in last year's divisive council election.
The proposal to Council for this contract itself states the following.
"The City currently operates three surface water treatment plants to meet the needs of the City's residents and businesses: Green Water Treatment Plant, Davis Water Treatment Plant and Ullrich Water Treatment Plant. The City needs future incremental water treatment and distribution system capacity expansions to meet projected water demand growth."
To participate in a bid on a project, particularly in the role of communication and public relations, one would assume that the bidder supports the project. Yet, in response to this year's Austin Neighborhoods Council questionnaire, Shea appears to engage in some historical revisionism.
Supporters of Shea confirmed her position nearly 2 months ago in this February 9th story in the Austin Bulldog about her campaign kick-off.
“She spoke out against Water Treatment Plant 4,” Bunch said of the major construction project that Mayor Leffingwell voted for and was authorized by a narrow 4-3 margin. Randi Shade also supported the project, a factor that may have contributed to her defeat by Kathie Tovo.
Neil Carman, clean air program director for the Sierra Club’s state Lone Star Chapter, said he supports Shea, “Because I want to see a change at City Hall. ... “Instead of putting money into a new water treatment plant, we should have invested in conservation and reuse to get the most out of the water we’ve got.”
Brigid Shea's words against the construction of a new Water Treatment Plant in 2012 contradict her actions in support of its construction in 2002. Given how central this issue was in last year's elections, on its own merits as well as in the larger context of Austin's utilities and capital spending, it is only fair that voters have the access to the facts. At the very least, they are owed some sort of explanation by Shea on what she believes and when she believed it.