6-Investigates: Concerns over elections grant voiced in Nueces County Commissioners Court

Posted at 10:47 PM, Oct 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-22 00:44:03-04

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Things got heated at the Nueces County Courthouse during a discussion about how the county will use an elections grant.

The disagreement over the county's contract with Crosswind Media spilled into Commissioners Court Wednesday. Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales says she exercised her powers as the county’s emergency manager to sign the contract for a campaign about voting safely in a pandemic.

The money comes from a $337,608 grant from the Center for Tech and Civic Life.

“Initially when they gave us the award letter it didn’t have COVID on there, it had elections and what you can do with it for the elections,” said Joe A. Gonzalez, Nueces County Commissioner for Precinct 2.

The county applied through The CTCL's COVID-19 Response Grant Program. It gives money to local election offices to provide resources for safe voting. The grant application said the county commissioners would decide where the money would go.

“How do you see an emergency in this one?” Gonzalez asked.

As elected officials, Gonzalez says commissioners should have had their say.

“This wasn’t taxpayer money, this was a grant, but it doesn’t make any difference,” said Gonzalez. “You still use it for county purposes.”

“We could use this money in other places,” said Nueces County Clerk Kara Sands. “Paying for the temps, paying for PPE that we need, hand sanitizer.”

Invoices show the county has already given Crosswind $204,000 for what will amount to less than a month’s work. Sands says she was blindsided when she found out the county judge signed the deal.

Crosswind officials have a different take.

“It appears as if we’re making beaucoup bucks, and we’re not,” said Crosswind President Thomas Graham. “We’re passing money through, we’re managing a process for the judge and for the county.”

Graham says Crosswind used local firms to produce signs for outside polling places… instructing voters how to be safe. They’ve also helped produce public service announcements.

Graham believes the controversy over this contract has unfairly given his firm a black eye.

“It’s disheartening to be thrown under the bus as if we’re trying to gouge or do something,” said Graham.

Several commissioners voiced their concerns, but for Gonzalez, the main concern was that the judge acted alone.

“To me, it was more of an election grant, not a COVID grant,” said Gonzalez. “You can label it COVID because you want to spend it and have the power to do it.”

KRIS Communications again tried to get a comment from Judge Canales, but she left the Commissioners Court meeting early and did not stop for an interview.