Duggan lands state job, a day after top law enforcement officer alleges he violated procurement laws

Jim Duggan walks out of Dracut Town Hall on Wednesday after the embattled town manager abruptly resigned from his position earlier in the day. AARON CURTIS/LOWELL SUN

BOSTON — The former town manager of Dracut, who resigned from his job in October amid tense relations with the Board of Selectmen over town contracting, has been hired by the Baker administration to help oversee its office of consumer affairs and business regulation.

The hiring of James Duggan was announced a day after Dracut selectmen voted to approve a settlement to resolve allegations made by Attorney General Maura Healey that in at least 17 instances during Duggan’s five-year tenure as town manager Dracut had violated state procurement and prevailing wage laws.

Duggan, according to the administration, was hired as deputy undersecretary of the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation to provide “operational leadership” for the office and the five regulatory agencies it oversees, including a combined operating budget of $87 million and 600 employees.

He is due to start in his new role on Feb. 25.

Healey’s office said that its investigation conducted by the Fair Labor Division found that Dracut illegally procured 17 construction projects valued at $9 million between 2017 and 2019.

The town, according to the attorney general’s complaint, failed to solicit multiple quotes for certain projects and did not properly advertise contracting opportunities, award contracts to the lowest eligible bidder, or require state-certification of contractors for projects that exceeded $150,000.

The Sun, of Lowell, has reported that one contract scrutinized by Healey’s office involved the hiring of a Hooksett, N.H. firm to build a security fence around the Police Department for nearly $40,000, despite receiving a lower bid from a local contractor. Hooksett is the hometown of Dracut Police Chief Peter Bartlett.

The attorney general’s investigation also faulted the town for failing to request the prevailing wage rate schedule from the Massachusetts Department of Labor Standards prior to soliciting bids for several public works projects, and for not including that schedule in bid documents given to contractors.

Earlier this month, Duggan abruptly withdrew from the town manager’s search in Mattapoisett, where he emerged as a finalist. That fueled speculation that Duggan had another job lined up.

The Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, which announced Duggan’s hire Wednesday alongside several other appointments, refused to comment further.

In its press release, the administration credited Duggan with improving Dracut’s bond rating, creating an environment that led to $80 million in commercial development, and streamlining the local permitting process.

Jay Ash, the former Chelsea city manager and former secretary of housing and economic development, told the News Service that Duggan was “one of the best town managers I came across.”

“Always knew his stuff, was well prepared, and understood the politics of any situation,” Ash said.

The settlement approved Tuesday night by the Dracut Board of Selectmen will be submitted by Healey’s office alongside the complaint in Suffolk Superior Court for a judge’s approval.

Among other changes, Dracut has agreed to hire a procurement officer, train its staff on the state procurement and prevailing wage laws, and will be subject to monitoring by the attorney general’s office.