Metro Takes Several More Steps To Distance Itself From Frank Wilson

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The Sweetheart Contract bus may have made its last run
The buzzword around Metro is "new."

A recent press release from the agency, for example, promoted "New Metro's" standards, and at this morning's board meeting, the agency's president, George Greanias, talked about the same New Metro.

And it did seem new when board member Burt Ballanfant -- he was around with the old group -- openly expressed concern about Metro spending more than $53 million to buy 100 new buses at a time when sales tax revenues are down and a federal funding agreement, which is key to paying for a large part of planned light rail expansion, isn't certain.

"Once we get started on the rail, the spending faucet is open," Ballanfant said. So he thought Metro should hold off on the big purchase.

But that didn't happen, because the board voted to buy the new buses.

Greanias believes that the funding from the Federal Transit Administration is close (Metro has been saying that for about a year), and he added that FTA has its own buzzwords these days, and in this case, those words are "state of good repair."

So apparently, if Metro's fleet isn't in a state of good repair, or better yet, new, the FTA has indicated that federal funding could stall even more.

"It's not just what you can build, but how well you can maintain what you have," Greanias said.

The biggest move by the New Metro was the restructuring of two contracts, including one with the local real estate firm McDade, Smith, Gould, Johnson, Mason and Company.

In December of last year, when it was clear that Frank Wilson was on his way out, Metro gave McDade a contract that paid the firm commission on all Metro real estate transactions, whether McDade had closed the deal or not.

The new contract, according to Metro board chairman Gilbert Garcia, only pays the firm commission on transactions it actually works on. Furthermore, he said, the new contract "clearly defines the relationship between Metro and McDade Smith."

There was confusion in the past, apparently, because one of McDade's brokers had an office at Metro's downtown headquarters even though he wasn't a Metro employee.

Garcia said he expects the new deal with McDade to be finalized later today, and when it is, Metro will post the contract on its Web site.

"This move is as much about transparency as it is about money," said board member Christof Spieler.

Metro also modified a contract with Dhiren Chakraborty, a rail car design consultant. Chakrabory's previous deal, which the Houston Chronicle reported was a no-bid contract, paid him $107 an hour.

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