CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Complaints surrounding the Nueces County Victims' Memorial Garden were brought to Corpus Christi City Council, prompting Gil Hernandez to launch an audit on the construction of the memorial.
The project was in the work for over two years and completed in the fall of 2020. But changes were made to the original design that required new permits. Angel statues were erected and the founder, Fallon Wood, had to get an engineer to approve their windstorm safety. The audit turned up that almost no permits were obtained for the project.
The results of the audit found the city Parks and Recreation Department was in charge of communicating with Wood and the contractor. Due to turnover in the department, it was never managed properly. Hernandez says it was a failure on the Parks and Rec department.
"We feel that the parks and recreation department, or at least the former leadership of that department, failed to execute good relationship management and engagement with the newly established agency," said Neiman Young, the latest assistant city manager of the Parks and Recreation Department. "To the point where we found some fundamental problems with the whole construction process, beginning with the fact that we didn't have an executed contract between city and the organization."
Woods had made these changes from the approved plan with the contractor, but it wasn't communicated to the city. Lack of communication left Development Services, Engineering and Public Works Departments out of the planning. Woods acknowledges she just didn't know the process and has apologized for the misunderstanding.
"As I understand it, she didn’t understand the proper channels, but still it was incumbent upon us to make sure that all the process were followed properly," said Hernandez, chairman of the audit committee.
Hernandez said there was another failure of the former parks and rec department regime, the location of the memorial. It sits at Oleander Point in Cole Park, not 50 ft from a residence. Neighbors have been concerned with privacy issues with so much foot traffic coming to the memorial. One neighbor said he was perplexed by the decision.
"Again, that was done by the previous management of parks and recreation," said Hernandez. "I thought it was going to be a little further down, away from this home here. But we're here now. Lets try and mitigate it as much as we can."
With the problems addressed in the audit and a new staff in parks and rec, communication has improved between all parties.
"We actually are establishing a new process for the administration as a whole," Young said. "We found this is a unique policy where not a lot of third-party construction takes place on city property."
The city is in the process of obtaining the proper permits now. Development services has checked out the memorial and ruled it safe to stay open while the changes are addressed. The biggest change to address will be ADA compliance. Hernandez noted there's not wheelchair access to the whole memorial. Concrete will need to be added to base the memorial and the benches.
"Considering the sensitive nature of this garden, of people who died through violent crime, it’s important that we take care of this and do it the right way and be sensitive about the nature of it," said Hernandez.