NEWS 8 INVESTIGATES
DALLAS — A North Texas businessman says Dallas Area Rapid Transit officials have gone too far.
He says DART's minority business hiring goals are not only unfair, they are wasting taxpayer funds and costing the transit agency more money than it can afford.
By most accounts, DART is in a horrible financial bind.
Its outlook is so bleak that the transit agency is scaling back light rail plans and cutting bus routes.
Since 1977, Dallas Aerial Survey has provided construction crews with a birds-eye view of prospective projects and detailed maps for accuracy and planning. Three months ago — when DART advertised the need for an aerial survey of a new light rail line — company owner Bill Johnson was quick with a bid.
DART records show three firms bid on the job: A.D.S. of Tulsa, Oklahoma; Johnson's firm, DAS; and M.T.Z., Martinez Geospatial of Austin, a minority firm, according to DART.
The prime contractor on the job, URS, solicited the bids and told DART officials it had "worked successfully with both Johnson and Martinez." But of the three bids, Johnson's was the lowest by $33,000.
"I had received a phone call that our whole approach looked good," Johnson said. "Our project pricing looked good, we were local, and we were being recommended for the project."
Then News 8 obtained an internal e-mail indicating that Martinez had been given the opportunity to revise its bid, lowering it to $115,000 — still $13,000 higher than Johnson's bid.
URS then asked DART officials to "please advise."
Martinez Geospatial, the minority firm, was awarded the job. But who made that decision and why?
DART Executive Director Gary Thomas says it wasn't DART.
"By law, we can't tell the contractor who they can actually pick for their subcontractors," Thomas said.
Yet, according to the transit agency's own internal records, it says "DART recommends Martinez be used due to their ability to fly the corridor (and take photos) immediately."
Thomas says he believes the recommendation is only echoing the contractor's demands.
Johnson says he's not buying it.
"I could have flown the corridor immediately," Johnson said. "It would have taken a phone call. I'd have said, 'Hello?' They'd have said, 'Fly it immediately,' and I'd have said, 'OK.' I do it all the time."
So if Johnson was the low bidder and says he could have flown immediately, why did Martinez Geospatial get the job?
Johnson chalks it up to DART's attempt to meet minority hiring goals.
"It confirms my suspicions," said Johnson. "But I've been here before; same song, one-thousandth verse."
What's more, while Johnson may be a white male, he says 75 percent of his workers are either female or minority.
And that minority firm out of Austin that was awarded the job? We checked: MTZ is actually based in Minnesota. They only had an office in Austin, and we found it locked and abandoned. The property manager said no one has been there for months.
Back in Dallas, Johnson said he's tired of minority hiring goals eroding his business, and he's certain he will never work for DART, which has project goals as high as 40 percent.
Thomas says he's sorry it didn't work out for Johnson, and defends DART's minority contracting goals.
"It's a great program," said Thomas. "It's a very robust program. We are very proud of the program because it's created a lot of opportunities."
Thomas also said a contractor can't be selected just because they're local. But in this case, the local, low-bidder who said he could have met everyone's needs and saved DART money, is looking for work elsewhere.