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Stoughton School Committee Drafts Response to Procurement Memo

The School Committee drafted a response to Procurement Officer Lindsay Pope’s January 26th Procurement Memo. As this issue continues to play out, Superintendent Rizzi said school bills are not being paid.

A difference in opinion in procurement laws and procedures continues to divide the and the . 

On the surface, the issue centers on contract bidding for the roof, but at its root, the issue is procurement (purchasing) powers itself, and whether or not the schools have procurement rights.

As this dispute plays out, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Marguerite Rizzi said that this procurement issue is impacting current orders the school department is trying to place and bills they are trying to pay. She said bills—ranging from $21.76 to Home Depot to $8,300 to Apple Computers to milk for the food services department to a $1,000 phone bill to Verizon, currently are not being paid.

The Schools, which have had procurement powers for the past 22 years have had this right revoked and replaced with more limited powers by Town Manager Francis T. Crimmins, Jr., as set forth by a clause in the Town Charter:

Section C4-2(H) of the Town Charter states that the powers of the Town Manager are “To purchase all supplies for every department of the Town, except books for the schools or the public library. He may delegate the responsibility to purchase supplies to an authorized representative and may revoke such delegation at his will.”

Crimmins exercised this power on December 6, 2011. The Schools had procurement rights since 1990.

Following the where a memo from Procurement Officer Lindsay Pope was discussed, which said the schools were “knowingly breaking the [procurement] laws,” the Stoughton School Committee responded with a letter of its own, drafted at a special open meeting, held Thursday, February 2 at the School Committee Room in Stoughton High.

“We cannot be attacked and attacked and attacked and lied about without responding,” School Committee Chair Joyce Husseini said.

The School Committee’s letter states:

Ms. Pope made several…allegations of illegal actions taken by the School Department.  Both Town and School counsels have written opinions on their interpretation of the Town Charter, state statute, and the by-laws as they apply to procurement.  Our legal counsel has assured us that our procurement practices are legal and correct.

And continues:

The problems stated here are part of a much larger pattern of attempts to control and damage the schools undertaken in the past two years.  The questions about procurement rights, and the rights of the School Committee to spend money appropriated for educational purposes were manufactured by the unilateral actions of the Town Manager that changed the status quo.  Absent these actions, which were entirely unnecessary, there would be no dispute, no allegations of illegality, no attorneys involved.

School Committee member Allan Mills said the School Department, thanks to Joel Harding, the supervisor of support services for the schools, who has handled procurement for this department in the past, “has a track record of savings” on “numerous projects,” citing that the school’s have come under stated project costs by about $5 million over the last two decades.

“This is a manufactured crisis; we get audited all the time,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Marguerite Rizzi said. “If it is not broke, why does it need fixing?”

According to the town’s interpretation of procurement laws, the schools can purchase supplies and services for less than $25,000.

“The Superintendent of Schools has been delegated to purchase all supplies and services for the School Department not to exceed $24,999 per vendor per fiscal year,” a December 7, 2011 memo from the Town Manager states. “This authority cannot be re-delegated by the Superintendent to any other individual.”

But, according to Dr. Rizzi, school bills are not being paid.

Pope’s memo says “the Inspector General’s office and the Assistant Attorney General Brian O’Donnell”…advised her “to move forward with an injunction through our town Counsel at Kopelman & Paige.”

The schools, in its letter, contend:

In our conversations with the AG’s office, he suggests that both parties work this problem out; and that he would never tell one party to seek an injunction.  The IG’s office has no jurisdiction in a Chapter 149 construction bid and would not get involved in making any recommendation as to any action that should be taken by the Town of Stoughton.

Members of the School Department were present at , where Pope’s memo was read, but Dr. Rizzi said the Schools did not officially receive a copy of the memo until Thursday at 4 p.m.

According to the memo issued by Pope:

The Inspector General’s Office as well as the Attorney General’s Office governs all supplies and services (including construction and public works) for the state. They go mainly by Massachusetts General Laws 30B, 30 39M, and 149. These three laws are the bread and butter of how to buy anything in the state as a public entity. Municipalities are required to follow these laws.

Awards for bids, proposal openings, and request for quotes must only be given by the Chief Procurement Officer (CPO) designated through the Inspector General’s Office by the Town in order for that procurement to be valid. If a procurement is not valid that procurement cannot be paid for or acquired in any way using public funds.

And, the schools have not complied with these efforts, town officials say, and therefore are in violation of state law.

The Schools have disputed this claim.

The Schools and the town meet Friday, February 3 to discuss this matter. Selectmen asked for a resolution by their next meeting, February 7.

***

The School Committee’s Response to is posted in the media gallery and is printed below. Pope's Memo is also posted in the media gallery. 

Stoughton School Committee Response to Procurement Issue


February 2, 2012

 

We are writing in response to the memo sent to the Board of Selectmen, written by Lindsay Pope, Acting Chief Procurement Officer, concerning allegations made in her presentation at their meeting held on January 31, 2012.   The Board of Selectmen had on their Tuesday night agenda a new business item concerning the procurement issues on the Jones School roof contract.  Neither the School Committee nor the Superintendent received the memo and we were not aware that it was an agenda item until the day before the meeting.  The memo contains serious allegations of improper procurement procedures and illegal actions taken by the School Department and is full of errors and mistruths.

The redesign of the Jones School roof was approved three years ago by Town Meeting, before the Selectmen adopted their Designer Selection Procedures.  Funding for construction of the roof was approved at last year’s Town Meeting; bid documents were prepared by the School Department; and the contract recently went out to bid.  Construction contracts are not covered under the Uniform Procurement Act, G.L. c.30B, but rather under Chapter 149.  Ms. Pope contends that she has had conversations with the Assistant Attorney General (AAG), Brian O’Donnell, and the Inspector General (IG) on this matter and that there have been complaints by bidders.  She also states that the AAG has tried to contact Dr. Rizzi and that his calls to her have gone unanswered.  The School Department has been in contact with the AAG a number of times in the past week concerning the Jones School Roof bid.  Mr. Harding made the initial call to check on the status of a bidder and to solicit advice from the Attorney General’s (AG) office.  There are no complaints on file by any bidder on this project.  Complaints would normally be made by a bidder to protest after a contract was awarded; and the Jones School roof contract has not been approved by the School Committee as of yet, and no contract exists.  She also states that the AG and IG have both advised her to move forward with an injunction against the School Department.  In our conversations with the AG’s office, he suggests that both parties work this problem out; and that he would never tell one party to seek an injunction.  The IG’s office has no jurisdiction in a Chapter 149 construction bid and would not get involved in making any recommendation as to any action that should be taken by the Town of Stoughton.

Ms. Pope made several other allegations of illegal actions taken by the School Department.  Both Town and School counsels have written opinions on their interpretation of the Town Charter, state statute, and the by-laws as they apply to procurement.  Our legal counsel has assured us that our procurement practices are legal and correct.  The Chairmen of both the Board of Selectmen and School Committee have been working towards a resolution in this matter and were scheduled to discuss it this week.  We do believe that we can come to a resolution on this matter.  But the insertion of this item in the agenda, the inflammatory memo, and the outburst by other members who chose to expand the agenda item beyond its scope have done egregious harm, and have turned this matter into a public spectacle.  No one wins in this situation. 

The problems stated here are part of a much larger pattern of attempts to control and damage the schools undertaken in the past two years.  The questions about procurement rights, and the rights of the School Committee to spend money appropriated for educational purposes were manufactured by the unilateral actions of the Town Manager that changed the status quo.  Absent these actions, which were entirely unnecessary, there would be no dispute, no allegations of illegality, no attorneys involved.

Additional problems stem from a lack of common courtesy.  There has been little to no communication from the Town Manager when he has made decisions that have impacted the operations of the schools.  He did not contact the Superintendent when he revoked the 22 year agreement granting the Superintendent full procurement powers for school purchases.  For two years he has made no effort to contact the School Department when he has adjusted our budget numbers for inclusion in his budget.  This behavior is not typical of past Town Manager/Superintendent relationships in Stoughton.  There is an increasing pattern of attacks that are unprovoked and leave us to have to answer to unfounded and absurd accusations.  This behavior must stop.  It is hurting the ability of both elected boards to do their work, especially as we head into budget sessions and Town Meeting.  It trivializes the work of both boards and of the employees of the School and Municipal Departments. And it reflects negatively on all the residents of Stoughton.

Most sincerely,

Joyce A. Husseini, Chair

Thomas H. Colburn

George L. Dolinsky

Allan W. Mills

Deborah J. Sovinee

DJ February 04, 2012 at 01:01 AM
Shouldn't this get the same exposure as your other report? Nice reporting over all. I thought Marks was very balanced and also worthy of thanks.
Christine Iacobucci February 05, 2012 at 01:12 AM
Agreed. Patch is doing a fantastic job covering this situation without a slant!

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