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ABOUT TOWN: Jones School Roof Bid Accepted, But Procurement Dispute Continues

Welcome to "About Town with Mark Snyder," a column that will keep you up to the minute with what's what, who's who and what's going on around town. If you see or hear something we could use here, let us know by sending an e-mail to pmpco@aol.com.

JONES SCHOOL ROOF PROJECT VENDOR APPROVED: The Jones Early Childhood Education Center roof—which was the catalyst for a bitter battle  between the schools and municipal sides of government—is finally going to get repaired. 

Tuesday night the School Committee approved the lowest bidder, SOM Construction Enterprises, with a bid of $455,247.  A couple of weeks ago, Acting Procurement Officer Lindsay Pope had accused the School Committee and Superintendent of Schools with "knowingly breaking the law" with accepting illegal bids on the project. 

Pope wrote (on January 26, 2012) that "A low bidder was chosen without an applicable CPO present or signing off on it."  The low bid was actually accepted on February 14, 2012. 

Despite Selectmen Chairman John Stagnone's statement that the school and town attorney both agreed that the Jones School roof project fell under Chapter 149 and was under the auspices of the school department, there is not agreement on this issue. 

Town Manager Francis T. Crimmins, Jr. and Pope both still believe that procurement policies are not being followed.  School Committee Chair Joyce Husseini attended a recent Selectmen's meeting and requested through the Chair that "officials" apologize for characterizing the Jones School bid process as illegal.

The school department is certainly not going to get an apology from Pope, the Acting Procurement Officer for the Town. Pope maintains that the schools DID act illegally in all phases of the purchase. In fact, while Husseini stood before the Board of Selectmen last Tuesday night saying that the schools were proven to be acting legally and looking for an apology on the Jones School roofing situation, Pope could be seen behind her vigorously shaking her head and saying, "No, that's not true."  

So, the controversy will continue. 

Despite the mediation attempts, this reporter thinks it may all end up in front of a judge on some future day—at great expense to Stoughton taxpayers.

Meanwhile, there are changes expected.  All school contracts—which currently are held in Facilities Manager Joel Harding's office, are expected to be sent to Town Accountant Bill Rowe.   

School Committee members had plenty to say about the controversy on Valentine's Day night. Superintendent of Schools Dr. Marguerite Rizzi said that long-term contracts, which have both town and school components, have been getting paid differently.

"Some of the vendors are having a problem getting paid. The town side is getting paid, but not school bills," she said Tuesday night. 

School Committee member Allan Mills added, "This could destroy relationships that have taken years to build."  Husseini assured that, "There's a level of frustration, but we are working towards a settled negotiation.  We are working better behind the scenes to bring resolution to this matter." 

School Committee member Tom Colburn took umbrage to the way Rizzi was treated at that Selectmen's meeting. "What was done on the Jones School roof and design work was perfectly appropriate and legal. The actions of our Superintendent were drawn into question, and attorneys on both sides, looking closely at the legal details, found that our Superintendent was knowingly and legally acting in a proper way. There were serious allegations and I wanted it on the record that they were refuted." 

Of course, the controversy isn't over by a long shot.  Crimmins and Pope maintain that the schools are still not in compliance. It's clear if you read the forms that Crimmins sent to the Inspector General in December, that the only legal purchasing agent on the school side is now Rizzi--and that's on purchases of $24,999 or less. 

In fact, his paperwork stipulates that Rizzi must be certified in procurement (Harding currently is but Crimmins did not delegate purchasing powers to him.)

Indeed, all school purchase orders must be sent to the Town Accountant's office, and/or Pope or Crimmins.

I'm not sure how this can all be settled in an amicable fashion, if paperwork filed by Crimmins on December 6th is any guide. It clearly delineates the way he has set up the town's purchasing, which flows through the procurement and accounting departments in town hall. 

The town is even calling into question the projects already worked on by the schools.  All major repairs and construction—from, boiler rooms to windows—must be permitted and inspected through the appropriate department (building, plumbing, electrical, etc.).  

There will be a discussion upcoming on the projects where permits were pulled—and where they were not. You'll see the details right in this space, in a future column.  

Here's an interesting fact to contrast with the Jones School project: In June of 2007, permits were pulled for a re-roofing of the Hansen School by Silktown Roof.  Cost? $675,000. 

Bruce Promisel February 16, 2012 at 04:47 PM
There are ways to make changes that are successful and ways to do them that will make sure that they fail. This Procurement change was set up to fail from the start. Dictating change rather than discussing will always meet with opposition and fail. It does make sense to have one place to coordinate the process but slamming it in does not and will not ever work.
DarkKnight February 17, 2012 at 12:40 PM
This was discussed and letters were send. Rizzi is power hungry as is Crimmins. Clearly Rizzi is trying to push hosts buttons. Crimmins is right here having a single stream for purchasing makes the most sense. Telle why won't they comply?
townmeeting1 February 17, 2012 at 12:48 PM
How about implementing and enforcing rules and regulations that should have been in effect years ago. The Procurement "change" was put in place to ensure proper accounting procedures and delagation of duties. These are safe guards to protect the citizens of this Town. We just need to look at the Chelsea Housing authority and the millions of dollars wasted on the taxpayers. How can the Town accountant sign off payment of a contract that he doesn't have access to? I wouldn't calling it slamming, I would call it check and balance and doing what's right for the Taxpayers of this town...........
DJ February 17, 2012 at 02:40 PM
Questions: Why do we invest considerable funds on legal review and representation only to ignore it? Why did Crimmins remove Hardings procurement powers if he is certified? Transfer them to Rizzi, but mandate certification to empower her and allow no transition period to accomplish this change? What are the precise issues Pope and Crimmins claim to remain out of compliance?

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