DRACUT — Selectman Joseph DiRocco Jr. came prepared.
At Tuesday’s Board of Selectmen meeting, DiRocco shared in greater detail the findings of his research into the town’s mishandling of procurement procedures. He listed a few projects which he said should have been sealed bids and took issue with the glaring absence of Dracut contractors.
There was the tear-down of the Dracut Fire station on Nashua Road, a project that came in at over $10,000. DiRocco said there were three bids for it: a company from Lowell, a second from Tewksbury, and a third from Randolph, Mass. “There again, no local contractors got it,” DiRocco said. “There was nothing put in the central register for any of these, which is another violation.”
Then there was a contract for Police Department cameras that, according to DiRocco, totaled to about $60,000. “They had two bids,” DiRocco said. “There again, it was over $50,000 so it should have been up for a sealed bid. But it didn’t.” He said the company that received the contract came from Hooksett, N.H.
Procurement officials will need to seek at least three written quotations for supplies and services valued between $10,000 and $50,000, according to the Massachusetts government website.
DiRocco at Tuesday’s meeting also brought up a fence job outside the Police Department headquarters that came in at more than $39,000. That went to another company in Hooksett, N.H.
“The thing that’s alarming to me is, you know, we have a lot of contractors in town who are paying taxes, who register their equipment in town,” DiRocco shared with his fellow selectmen and Town Manager Jim Duggan. “So at the very least, if we’re not reaching out to them individually, at least we should have followed the rules and put this thing in a central register…”
DiRocco also read a portion of a letter he said Duggan received from a bid process hearing attorney at the Attorney General’s Office. The letter touched on “allegations that certain town projects were not put out to bid properly.”
“I find this a little bit alarming,” DiRocco said.
The revealing rundown was a continuation of a discussion DiRocco initiated at a previous selectmen’s meeting. In the meeting earlier this summer, he publicly aired his frustrations with Duggan after he said the town manager failed to address his concerns about local contractors not being considered for projects in town. When he began looking into the matter himself, DiRocco said it appeared that the town did not adhere to Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 30B — on procurement procedures. He later told The Sun that multiple jobs went to one company outside of Dracut — Lowell-based RSG Contracting Corporation.
Town department heads who need goods or services can go out and solicit proposals under the state’s procurement law. Once a price is received and a purchase order is set up, it goes back to Duggan for him to sign.
Duggan said a response to the AG’s office is being drafted. “Prior to receiving the email, I had independently reached out to the Inspector General’s Office and requested some assistance in reviewing exactly what has come about,” Duggan said. “Other steps that we have done… as you know, we’ve established the procurement compliance officer here within Town Hall. Multiple department heads are scheduled for the training classes. Policies and procedures on procurement are drafted and they’ve being reviewed right now.”
DiRocco said it’s not the town’s policy.
“It’s whatever the law is, correct?” DiRocco asked Duggan.
Duggan said the policies reflect following the laws, likening them to a “road map.”
Selectmen Chair Jesse Forcier suggested maybe town counsel can be involved in this matter.
“Something’s going on here beyond training,” Forcier said. “One company — $151,000 of bids at the same company and no one picked up on. No sealed bids… So yeah, now you’re trained now, but I mean what the hell have we been doing in the past?”
Forcier said it’s not training. “It’s something far worse than that,” he said.
Duggan said hopefully those questions will be answered.
Selectman Tony Archinski said it appears to him that there’s a systemic problem here.
“It appears to me that a lot of eyes should have been on these bills,” Archinski said. “We’ve got the department heads, to start with. Then we have the town treasurer, the accountant, the auditor. I mean where are the checks and balances?”