County votes to bypass bid process for airport director contract


PRESIDIO COUNTY – Presidio County Commissioners voted to exempt the County Airport Director job from bids during the January 23 County Commissioners Court.

The conversation began last year when Chase Snodgrass, the current County Airport Director, requested to change his status from county employee to contractor. The role oversees the Marfa Municipal Airport and Presidio Lely International Airport.

Debate arose when the proposed three-year contract amounted to $114,000. Any contract above $50,000 automatically triggers the County Purchasing Act of Texas, which requires the county to accept competing bids.

Commissioner Brenda Bentley brought legal language forward at the meeting that might allow the county to exempt jobs with specialized skills from the otherwise required bid process, and allow them to hire Snodgrass as a contractor sooner.

Commissioner Buddy Knight said using the statute Commissioner Bentley suggested felt like trying to slip around the law. County Attorney Rod Ponton warned against using the statute, stating that the job should be bid out, because of the dollar amount attached.

Ponton had requested an opinion from the Texas Attorney General about the statute, and a decision is due in late March or early April. He advised, “The safest thing is for the county to wait for what the Attorney General thinks. I’ve told the court in the past that there are qualified people in the area that would like to be able to submit bids. There are two things to be looked at, management, and operations for a Fixed-Base Operator.”

Ponton explained, “This court, the five of y’all sitting here, are guardians of county property and should be able to tell people if they’re doing a good job or not a good job. The contract as proposed says it’s for two years and y’all couldn’t fire him.” The contract Ponton was referencing was one that Snodgrass had submitted to the county, but had withdrawn before the meeting. In later comments, Ponton pointed out that in Snodgrass’ retracted contract, Snodgrass could give two weeks notice, but the county couldn’t cancel the contract without paying him out.

Snodgrass disputed Ponton’s advice, stating that the County Purchasing Act “talks about the discretionary exemption. It says the Texas Attorney General opinion is not an effective outlet at obtaining guidance in this. It’s the Commissioner Court’s opinion whether it is an exemptible option.”

All members of the court rejected wholesale the idea of soliciting a Fixed-Base Operator, also known as an FBO, that Ponton had mentioned. Judge Cinderela Guevara explained, “With FBOs we lose money on sales. That’s why we’re doing so good as it is, because of our fuel sales. Other airports look at us, especially small airports, and say, ‘wow y’all are the only ones progressing.’”

Guevara also credited Snodgrass for his skills, and his ability to bring in grants to the county’s two airports. The commissioners praised Snodgrass’ work in turn, and worried that all of the grants he had received need a knowledgeable hand like his to properly administer them.

A much-needed $3 million TxDoT Aviation Division grant to rehabilitate the main Marfa airport runway is in its initial stages. The FAA has told the county the runway can’t support the weight of corporate jets using the airport more frequently these days.

Snodgrass said, “I feel that it would be unprofessional of me to walk away right now, that projects I started seven years ago are now coming to fruition. After those seven years, if I haven’t proved that I have the county’s interest in mind, then what’s the point of even continuing? I’m huge on transparency, not intending to be un-transparent. There are subversive efforts to come in and take the money. I’m here to keep that from happening.”

At the meeting, no Commissioners mentioned that Snodgrass might have plans that would draw him away from Presidio County during his potential contract period. Commissioner Knight asked Snodgrass after the meeting if he would be moving to Corpus Christi to be with his family. Knight says that Snodgrass said his wife lives in Corpus and that Snodgrass said he’d be there. Attorney Ponton had heard similar information.

Asked for comment on a potential relocation or splitting time outside of Presidio County, Snodgrass responded, “That’s a personal question, but I own a home in Presidio.”

Commissioner Knight added that he doesn’t think an Airport Director could do the job effectively without being in Presidio County full time. Attempts to reach Commissioner Bentley by phone and email were not returned at time of press.

The move from employee to contractor would save money for the county, as Snodgrass would decrease his yearly pay from $51,376 to $38,000 a year. Snodgrass said, “The only thing I want to change is the way I’m paid.” Currently as a county employee, “20% of my income is going to the federal government.”

Ponton gave a final warning to Commissioners. “Don’t collude with vendors to give them an advantage. This could result in an investigation from the Attorney General. A Request for Quotation, or RFQ, would let the Commissioners Court accept responses, and negotiate an agreement. It would be an open and transparent process. Chase would be able to respond to it.”

“I’m always for transparency,” Commissioner Bentley said. “If the majority wants to put it out for RFQs, I’m ok with that. My fear is that Chase is going to get tired, and we’re going to lose him.”

After Bentley’s comment, the court voted to circumvent the bid process, with Commissioners Bentley, Cabezuela, and Aranda approving, and only Judge Guevara and Commissioner Knight objecting. Guevara added, “A lot of money is going to come in for grants, so I would want Chase to attend every commissioners court meeting to give the reports. That’s my motion—that we take care of it in a workshop agenda with advice from our attorney and auditor, and Chase would have input.”

Asked if he would be able or willing to attend every commissioners court meeting, Snodgrass stated, That’s never been a requirement before, but it’s interesting that she’d interject a new requirement. I’m not interested in taking on new responsibilities.”

The council will hold a workshop on February 6 at 2:30pm, where they will begin negotiating a contract between Snodgrass and the county. It will take place after the regular Commissioners Court meeting in Marfa scheduled for 9:30am on the Wednesday, February 6.

In other business, the county discussed the vacant position of Facilities Manager, and considered abolishing the position and instead assigning a supervisor role to Commissioner Knight, who had previously offered to oversee the department. The item was tabled.