Sometimes it’s the rabbit trails in City Council discourse that provide instantaneous, deer-in-the-headlights revelations of character.
So it went at the May 21 City Council meeting at the tail end of the discussion about the Tony Ayala-Sunset Pools-Lazy River debacle, a project that had its genesis in a 2015 contract between Ayala and the City for the construction of South Laredo’s Lazy River pool in District II.
Fourteen months past its estimated completion date in the Spring of 2017, long after the check was cashed, and the project coming in well over the anticipated initial cost of $1.3 million, City engineer Rogelio Rivera was ticking off the hallmarks of the Lazy River project — change orders, delays, and revised costs to $1.5 million.
Ayala had last appeared before City Council on March 19, 2018 to propose that the City accept taller slides in lieu of collecting liquidated damages from him (an amount the parties designated during the formation of a contract for the injured party to collect as compensation upon a specific breach such as late performance, in this case $700 a day).
Ayala had then assured the Council that the new, taller slides would be completed by mid-May, which has come and gone.
Rivera told the Council that as of May 21 Ayala had accrued 105 days in liquidated damages. He confirmed that no work had been done on the slides and showed photos of them on the ground.
He said that on May 14, Ayala submitted a change order asking for another 180 days. Rivera noted that Ayala has been working on trenching, grading, and plastering the pools. “The main attraction of the Lazy River is, of course, the slides,” Rivera continued, estimating that the project is at 92 percent completion.
Mayor Pete Saenz asked City Attorney Kristina Hale for legal options to address Ayala’s delays in completing the project.
Hale answered, “We can go for the bond, the surety,” adding, “We would need a directive from Council.”
District II Council member Vidal Rodriguez, who did not favor calling in the bond because it would halt work on the pool, asked, “If we go after liquidated damages, when can we have the project completed for the people of South Laredo?”
“We are late now to go after the bond, given the percentage of the project completed. We have allowed it to get to this point by negotiating with him (Ayala),” said City Manager Horacio De Leon.
That information would have been useful had it been imparted earlier to Council in dealing with Ayala’s longstanding failure to deliver a completed project.
A protracted discussion ensued, punctuated with Rodriguez’s repeated reminders that the completion of the project was important to his district.
District VIII Council member Roberto Balli commented that he “would not support a motion made by District VII Council member Altgelt, only one made by Council member Rodriguez.”
In the to and fro of discussing whether to call in Ayala’s bond or go after liquidated damages, District V Council member Vielma said that doing business with Ayala had been a “laughable” exercise of setting dates and trying to hold to them when the contractor had no respect for deadlines.
“It is very clear to me that he will never perform,” Mayor Saenz said of Ayala.
“This person has a history of coming before Council and not being very truthful about his representations in the past regarding insurance and other issues,” she said.
Rodriquez said he wanted “a quality project for South Laredo,” and reiterated that he wanted “to start liquidated damages as of May 15.”
And then at last, surfaced the rabbit trail that made worthwhile the sad narrative for how the glib Ayala had taken the City of Laredo on a long ride of bad faith and how the City and the Council member from District II let him do so by granting change orders and not holding firm to deadlines on a $1.5 million dollar chunk of taxpayer money.
As Vielma evoked a City trip from July 11 to 15, 2017, those listening were transported to Cancún, where Mayor Saenz had addressed the 1,000+ membership of the conference of the Confederación de Asociaciones de Agentes Aduanales de La Republica Mexicana (CAAAREM). He traveled there with City staff to extoll the virtues of Port Laredo and to talk about the improved amenities of the World Trade Bridge.
Addressing Rodriguez, Vielma spoke truth to ineptitude, citing contractor Ayala’s appearance in Cancún in the company of Rodriguez. “I think it’s highly questionable because I understand also that, and I don’t know if it was coinciding with the second change order, that Mr. Ayala was in Cancún with Council member Vidal (Rodriguez), and I don’t know that there were other promises or not. I think this looks very questionable to me to continue acting like nothing’s wrong and giving him all these change orders when we know that he’s not performing. I mean, what are we doing for the City? How are we protecting citizens by giving some political favors?”
A long dry silence ensued.
“As far as Cancún, who did I get on the plane with, can you answer that, Mr. City Manager?” Rodriguez asked officiously.
Another withering silence.
“I’m not sure about what…..,” the City Manager answered uncomfortably.
“I’m not sure either about Cancún, Ms. Vielma, ‘cause the trip I took was with the whole City staff, including the Mayor that we went to Cancún and we’re on City business. So I don’t know where you’re coming from,” Rodriguez answered, and then asked De Leon, “Was he (Ayala) there on the plane with us?”
The Mayor answered instead. “No, but there at the resort. Mr. Ayala was there in Cancún. I saw him. As a matter of fact, the (City) manager and I saw you guys with Charlie (San Miguel),” the Mayor answered.
“Mayor, point of order,” Council member Torres interrupted.
“No, he asked the question. He’s going to get his answer,” Saenz said.
The Council discussion eventually reverted to what to do with the errant, non-compliant slow builder of pools, Tony Ayala.
Rather lamely, Council member Rodriguez, once again invoked the name of South Laredo children who still didn’t have their pool a year after its scheduled completion.
“Go after liquidated damages as of May 15 so it would urge the contractor to finish the process so the kids of South Laredo do not suffer,” Rodriguez said, not naming the contractor.
Well it might have served us all in July of 2017, but especially the children of South Laredo, if Vidal Rodriguez — traveling on the public nickel — might have urged Ayala over sunset cocktails at a seaside resort bar in Cancún a year ago to get the lead out, to finish this worthwhile recreational amenity before another thirsty summer was here and gone.