While it initially seemed as if it would be the municipal side of government that would first seek legal action in the between the town of Stoughton and the Stoughton School Department, it is in fact, the schools that have taken the first step in pursuing a possible legal remedy.
The Stoughton School Committee met Tuesday, March 27, went into executive session at 9 p.m. after a two-hour open session, and then reconvened at 10 p.m. in open session to further discuss the procurement issue.
Shortly after 10 p.m., school committee member George Dolinsky made the motion “authorizing the Superintendent, through [the School Department’s] attorney, to take all appropriate action up to and including filing an injunction and/or a legal complaint related to procurement.”
This motion passed unanimously, 5-0.
There will be a school committee meeting Monday, April 2, at 6:30 p.m. where Superintendent of Schools Dr. Marguerite Rizzi may give an indication or may make an announcement of whether the schools will in fact pursue legal action or hold off for the time being.
Procurement is essentially purchasing powers.
What was never a one-dimensional disagreement between the two sides has only escalated since December 6, 2011.
It was on this date that Town Manager Francis T. Crimmins, Jr., citing Section C4-2(H) of the Town Charter, revoked the procurement powers of the Superintendent of Schools, and then the following day issued the Superintendent limited purchasing powers (the ability to procure supplies and services less than $25,000).
Since becoming Stoughton’s Town Manager, Crimmins, who serves as chief procurement officer for the town, has sought to tighten procurement policies and centralize purchasing for all departments in town, the schools included.
On the surface, the issue initially centered on contract bidding for the roof, but at its root, the issue became about procurement powers itself, and whether or not the schools have procurement rights.
, Dr. Rizzi said that this procurement issue is impacting current orders the school department is trying to place and bills they are trying to pay.
because their associated contracts are deemed to have been put out to bid improperly, but town bills are being paid even though some of their associated contracts were not put out to bid in proper fashion, Dr. Rizzi contends.
The most recent issue of this came when the Stoughton Fire Department conducted a fire drill at and fire alarms in parts of the building did not sound.
In a letter sent to various media outlets, Dr. Rizzi wrote:
The fire alarm service company, EDI is one whose bills the Town Auditor [Bill Rowe] is refusing to pay because he disagrees with the choice of state publication in which the original bid was advertised. As a result, EDI is not being paid under their existing contract. To their credit, and our great relief, the people at EDI agreed to come to fix the alarm because it was an emergency, and said they would “deal with the money issues later.”
But they could have elected not to respond, she argues, given the fact they have not been paid. This could have caused a closing of the high school for safety reasons, she said.
It did not, but school committee members were visibly frustrated at Friday’s incident.
“The [procurement] situation was inconvenient, a big nuisance, a waste of taxpayer money until it recently risked the health and safety of school children and staff,” school committee member Deborah Sovinee said when the March 27 meeting reconvened in open session.
“It’s a matter of public safety…[it] placed students’ lives in jeopardy…this is intolerable, period,” school committee member Allan Mills said.
Dolinsky called Friday’s fire alarm incident the “straw that broke the camel’s back.”
In the original open session on March 27, school committee chair Joyce Husseini said that there are 200 school districts across the state that handle their own procurement.
School Committee member Tom Colburn said the schools have “had a well-running, efficient system” when it comes to procurement.
He, along with other members, expressed hope that there could be a potential resolution after meeting with .
Feaster is set to become interim town manager when Crimmins steps down from the town manager post on March 31. Feaster’s contract was approved by the Stoughton Board of Selectmen by a 3-0 vote, with one abstention, Tuesday night.
The Schools have had procurement powers for the past 22 years until this right was recently revoked and replaced with more limited powers.
“A former town manager delegated power to a specific superintendent. Maybe the next manager will give unwarranted power, but this manager [Crimmins] didn’t,” Crimmins said at the .
Dr. Rizzi indicated in the original open session on March 27 that in her view, “the only way to resolve this is to return procurement rights as they were for the past 22 years to the school system.”
“Nothing less than that,” she said.
Now, she has the option to have the school’s attorney pursue legal action in the form of a legal complaint or an injunction. It remains to be seen if the schools will choose to do this.