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‘Can you hear us now’
by Jason Collins
Oct 17, 2010 | 1061 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Bee County commissioners will have to find someone else to improve the acoustics inside the district courtrooms of the Bee County Courthouse.

Ken Bridges, with Ken Bridges Audio Video, wrote a letter to commissioners saying that he would not be able to complete the work as discussed.

“We regret not being able to complete, but circumstances unusual to us were contributing,” Bridges wrote in the letter. “If we can be of any help with your effort to secure conclusion through other means, please let us know.

“I have a lot of personal interest in this challenging project and anything I can contribute, such as review of other offers, I would be happy to do at no charge as this is a very challenging project.”

Commissioner Carlos Salazar Jr. said, “The facts are the man cannot complete the job.”

Salazar said he has spoken with County Attorney Mike Knight about the situation.

“At this time what Mike Knight is proposing is to get with John Contreras and get a list of items that have been done so he can send him a settlement amount to Mr. Ken Bridges coming from his office,” he said.

Bridges, according to Salazar, has already made a settlement offer to the county for the work he has done thus far.

“We surely aren’t going to pay what he is asking, not even close.

“That was something that none of us were too happy with,” Salazar said.

Commissioner Eloy Rodriguez said, “It is my understanding that Mr. Ken Bridges brought us some equipment we didn’t need and now he is charging us $4,000.”

Salazar interjected, saying, “That he is trying to charge us for.”

Salazar told the court that he has spoken with Sharon Fleming, with the Texas Historical Society, about the agreement with Bridge.

“She wants to close the books on Mr. Ken Bridges,” he said. “The money is still there that the state is going to provide the county with. It is a 50/50 match.”

Sixteen months ago, commissioners agreed to borrow $60,000 on a three-year note to finance the needed improvements to the courtrooms’ acoustics.

The county needs the $60,000 so it can receive a matching amount from the Texas Historical Society.

At that meeting, Commissioner Susan Stasny encouraged the commissioners to proceed with the improvements because it could save them money in the long run.

She said San Patricio County was being sued by an attorney because of the poor acoustics of its courtrooms.

“This is a liability issue,” Stasny said during that meeting. “San Pat is being sued because it does not meet acoustical standards, and we know through an acoustical study that we authorized that we do not meet acoustical standards.”

Because of wording on Monday’s agenda item, commissioners were unable to take formal action of removing Bridges. The agenda referenced a contract.

County Auditor Blandina Costley pointed out to commissioners that there was no contract with Bridges.

“There is no contract so it has not breached,” she said. “All that we have is a proposal that was approved by the court. No action agreement was signed by either of the two parties.”

Costly told the court that Bridges had presented one invoice, which has not been paid, to the court requesting a $27,000 payment for work and equipment he said was completed.

“Then he came back and proposed an invoice that was $15,000, which was a large reduction ­— $7,000 is still in question,” she said.

County Judge David Silva said that he too has spoken with Bridges about the circumstances.

“He suffered some unforeseen things, health issues and it kind of went south,” he said.

Stasny added, “He has had issues completing Goliad, so I think his issues follow him wherever he goes.”

The need to improve the acoustics of the historic courtrooms came about because of complaints from prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, court reporters and even jurors who have said that they cannot hear what is being said in court because of the poor sound — even if the speaker is standing a few feet away.

County leaders authorized an acoustics study of the district courtrooms in June 2007 because of these complaints.

An Austin company, BAI, conducted the study over a two-month period.

According to the study produced by BAI: “sound takes too long to go away in the courtrooms. That is to say, sound reverberates — bounces off walls, ceilings, floors and chairs — three times longer than it should.”

BAI recommended the county spend about $120,000 on improving the acoustics in the two district courtrooms, including adding sound-dampening materials on ceilings and walls, double-paned glass windows, and a sound system to amplify speakers.

Jason Collins is the editor at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 121, or at editor@mySouTex.com.
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