DRACUT — A months-long Attorney General review of town procurement practices came to a head Tuesday night as the Board of Selectmen voted to approve a settlement addressing allegations that Dracut violated procurement and prevailing wage laws.
News of the probe became public in September, when The Sun reported that Attorney General Maura Healey’s office had begun to review the town’s decision to hire a Hooksett, N.H. firm to construct a security fence around the Police Department, despite receiving a quote from a local firm for several thousand dollars less.
Allegations that other town projects were not put out to bid properly were also reported to Assistant Attorney General Deborah A. Anderson, according to an email obtained in a public records request, including the Beaver Brook trail project and the demolition of the former police station on Lakeview Avenue. In October, former Town Manager Jim Duggan resigned abruptly amid mounting criticism around his handling of town purchasing.
According to the AG’s office, the recent investigation overseen by its Fair Labor Division Bid Unit found that 17 procurements were completed illegally in Dracut between 2017 and 2019, with the projects valued at $9 million, though the office did not specify which projects were flagged during the review.
The probe identified several issues with the procurement procedure, finding that the town failed to solicit multiple quotes for some projects, properly advertise contracting opportunities, award contracts to the lowest eligible bidder and require that contractors be state-certified for projects totaling more than $150,000.
The review also found that the town did not request the prevailing wage rate schedule from the state Department of Labor Standards prior to putting several projects out to bid, and failed to include the rate schedule in bid documents provided to bidders and selected contractors, according to the office, violating prevailing wage laws.
The settlement, which is contingent upon court approval, requires Dracut to hire an experienced procurement officer and provide training to staff on procurement and prevailing wage laws. The town will also be subject to monitoring by the Attorney General’s office going forward.
Town Counsel James A. Hall said at Tuesday’s meeting that the monitoring will involve sending quarterly reports to the Attorney General over the next two years. According to Ann Vandal, interim town manager, the office has already approved a job description for a procurement officer, which will likely be advertised this week or next.
“We’re probably going to have the best procurement system in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” Hall said. “We’re going to be highly scrutinized and regulated to ensure that.”
Though discussion of the issue was limited, Selectman Joseph DiRocco, Jr. brought up the idea of accountability. He said his understanding is that the Attorney General’s first priority is making sure procurement matters are handled correctly going forward, but that discussions around accountability aren’t “out of the picture as of yet.”
Selectmen Vice Chairman Tony Archinski noted that the review did not make any mention of criminal intent, and said that if someone is going to be held responsible, everyone involved should be held responsible and not just one person. Selectman Tami Dristiliaris cautioned against punishing contractors who were swept up in the town’s procurement issues.
“Let’s follow the process and just end this. We shouldn’t be trying to blame and fine and hurt people,” she said. “Nobody that worked for this town did anything intentionally wrong.”
The board voted unanimously to authorize Vandal to execute the consent judgment, which will now be filed in Suffolk Superior Court, according to the Attorney General’s Office.