Editor's note: This story has been updated to include comments from Montgomery County Election Administrator Suzie Harvey and Texas Fabricators owner Andrew Narvaez.
Montgomery County commissioners voted unanimously to cancel a contract with Conroe-based Texas Fabricators to rebuild the county’s election carts at a March 29 Commissioners Court meeting.
Commissioners also voted to let Precinct 1 Commissioner Robert Walker investigate the county’s election cart needs before a new contract could be awarded. Walker said he would present his findings to the court at an unspecified later date.
The county issued the contract at a Nov. 16 meeting to refurbish the county’s 482 election carts. Precinct 3 Commissioner Noack questioned the number presented at the March 29 meeting.
“It seems like nobody is really paying attention to what was going on and how many carts are actually being retrofitted,” Noack said. “I honestly don’t have any confidence in what’s going on with this project.”
The county’s purchasing director, Gilbert Jalomo, who presented the item, told commissioners that no money had been paid to Texas Fabricators before the contract was canceled. Texas Fabricator’s initial proposal was for $84,350, and commissioners approved a change order adding $21,087.50 at a Jan. 25 meeting.
According to the county's elections administrator Suzie Harvey, the carts are used to store, secure, protect, and transport the county's voting machines. In a March 29 email to Community Impact Newspaper, Harvey said the county will have the equipment it needs for the May 7 elections, but carts need to be rebuilt to hold voting machines that comply with Texas' new voting requirements.
Jalomo initially presented two items at the March 29 meeting with the first requesting the contract cancellation and the second requiring the use of a discretionary exemption to award a new contract to Texas Metal Works, one of the initial vendors considered alongside Texas Fabricators. The discretionary exemption was not voted on at the meeting.
Questions about bid process
Noack said he had “no confidence” in the project at the March 29 meeting. According to court minutes, Noack made the initial motion, which was unanimously approved, to move forward with Texas Fabricators as the vendor for the rebuilt election carts.
The election cart rebuild project, which is listed as Project 22-01 in the county’s system, was first advertised for bids at an Oct. 26 Commissioners Court meeting. The county does not have a document on record for the actual advertisement of the project, according to a representative from the county clerk’s office.
Four contractors responded with Texas Fabricators proposing a $84,350 bid—substantially lower than the other bids, including Texas Metal Works, which proposed a $254,496 bid.
At the Nov. 16 meeting, Precinct 4 Commissioner James Metts, who eventually seconded the Texas Fabricators contract, according to court minutes, raised a concern about the price discrepancy. Jalomo said the business had studied the prototype before making its proposal.
“They had photographs; they even studied the prototype [elections cart],” Jalomo said at the Nov. 16 meeting.
However, Texas Fabricators owner Andrew Narvaez told Community Impact Newspaper that he had not seen the prototype before proposing his bid. Narvaez provided Community Impact Newspaper with a scope sheet that he received from the county detailing the specifics of the carts, with incorrect information regarding the carts' dimensions.
At a Jan. 11 meeting, Jalomo reported the county elections department, which was overseeing the project, requested a modification to the carts’ sizes that required the $21,087.50 change order, which is the largest possible by state law.
Narvaez told Community Impact Newspaper Texas Fabricators had to order additional material to make up for the correct dimensions, leading to the January change order. He said the company had completed 25% of the order before receiving word the county would cancel the contract in March.
Narvaez said he would be interested in re-bidding if the county decides to return to the bid process.
"It seems like what happened was a hiccup, and we're waiting to see what happens with the project now," Narvaez said. "I'd definitely be interested in re-bidding if it comes up."