by BRAD ROLLINS
Hays County leaders have delayed executing an engineering contract with Kellogg Brown and Root after servicemen argued that the company’s alleged war-zone failures means it ought not be awarded local taxpayer money.
Pct. 1 Commissioner Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe recommended the firm for the $617,629 contract to engineer the county’s portion of Farm-to-Market Road 110, the San Marcos loop, which was part of a road bond package approved by voters in November. But three local Iraq veterans and recent local media coverage led Ingalsbe to move that the decision be delayed at least a week when it came before the commissioners court on Tuesday.
Bryan Hannah, who served in Iraq from October 2006 to January 2008 as an artillery man in the 1st Calvary Division, told the commissioners court that his unit escorted empty KBR trucks so the company could defraud the federal government.
“I personally put my life on the line to escort those empty trucks and make a profit for the company,” Hannah said. “The stock trends of Kellogg Brown and Root are proportionate to soldier deaths in Iraq.”
Jude Prather, who is currently deployed to Iraq as part of the 100th Battalion 442nd Infantry Regiment, sent a letter to commissioners in which he said, “I posed the question to my convoy escort team would you give KBR a contract to build a road for your city or county, it was a unanimous response more colorful than would be appropriate to repeat in this court, but the men I serve with, along with me, strongly believe that we should never give KBR another dime of our taxpayers money.”
The company has been accused of a range of negligent and fraudulent activities ranging from faulty wiring on showers that electrocute soldiers to years-old bribery accusations related to its former chief executive officer Albert Stanley.
“My dad always told me that you vote with your dollar. He said that if you don’t like the way a company does business, don’t do business with them,” said Gregory Foster, who was deployed as a tank crewman in the 1st Armored Division for a year starting in June 2004. “We don’t like the way KBR does business.”
KBR governmental affairs director Marit Babin told the court, “Most of what has been reported and what you’ve heard today is flat out false. We are very proud of the job we are doing and we honored to do it.” She also noted that the local news site that first reported on the KBR allegations in the context of local engineering contracts never contacted the company for comment.
In response to questions from County Judge Elizabeth Sumter, she conceded wrongdoing by Stanley, who she called, “an unfortunate chapter in our company’s history.”
The company’s communications director, Heather L. Browne, asked that questions about specific allegations related to KBR be submitted in writing, a process the Mercury is currently undergoing. She said, “We are obviously a high-profile company in regard to our work in Iraq but we are committed to transparency and want to address the questions that have been raised.”
The dustup over KBR, a favorite target of Iraq war critics, comes as Sumter and Pct. 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton appear to be gearing up for a Democratic Party primary battle for the judgeship in 2010.
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