By: Brian Genest – September, 2019
So much for a nice, quiet summer in Dracut. In recent weeks, a tidal wave of self-inflicted bad news has washed over town hall. With a flood of lawsuits, potential legal issues and plenty of well-deserved scrutiny, it certainly hasn’t been a day at the beach for Town Manager James Duggan.
In case you’ve missed it, a deputy police chief has filed a civil-rights lawsuit against the town manager for retaliation, workplace bullying and harassment, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has determined that there is reasonable cause to believe the town has discriminated against a local firefighter because of his disability and the state’s Department of Environmental Protection has issued an enforcement order against the town for the Beaver Brook trail project for violations of the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act. We’re going to need a bigger bottle of sunscreen…
Things were already sweltering when Selectman Joe DiRocco brought a scorcher of a revelation to his colleagues on the board at their August meeting: the town apparently hasn’t been following the procurement process outlined by state law and that a number of projects in town were not properly put out to bid, including the Beaver Brook trail project, the new firehouse and at least a handful of others.
According to DiRocco, three bids were not received for construction projects over $10,000, a sealed bidding process wasn’t used for one project over $50,000 and no log of written or verbal bids was maintained. In addition, DiRocco said that there appears to be favoritism, as most of the work has been given to one Lowell company.
DiRocco said some contractors who live and work in town brought the issue to his attention and that he brought the issue forward to see what the board wants to do about it.
“Mr. Chairman, I have absolutely no idea what he’s talking about,” Tony Archinski said to Jesse Forcier.
“I think it’s a pretty reasonable explanation of what’s been going on,” Forcier told Archinski.
“I have no idea what he’s talking about,” Archinski insisted.
Tami Dristiliaris tried to clue in Archinski. “So, Joe, what you’re saying is that the bidding process wasn’t followed?” she asked.
“Yes, it wasn’t,” DiRocco said. “That’s correct.”
Forcier said it was alarming that the work was being awarded to “somebody with a connection within the DPW.”
“How do you know this?” Archinski asked.
“He just explained it to you,” Forcier answered.
Perhaps Archinski should read the Sunday gossip column in the regional newspaper.
The procurement issue was previewed there in black and white two days before the selectmen’s meeting, along with other issues in town everyone is talking about. He also could have called the town attorney for more information beforehand, as Forcier correctly and politely pointed out.
Duggan told the board that he is responsible for operations.
“The buck stops with me – good, bad or indifferent,” he said, adding that corrective action is being taken to resolve the problem, including the implementation of a procurement compliance officer at town hall.
Town Attorney James Hall said procurement procedures are regulated by the state’s attorney general and talked about potential legal ramifications.
According to Hall, an initial investigation of the situation would be conducted by the attorney general, if they became aware of it, and the matter would be subsequently referred to the inspector general for action, if it was determined to have substance.
Board members agreed to review the documents gathered by DiRocco and to discuss the situation at a subsequent meeting. Hall said the board may be able to meet behind closed doors in executive session to discuss the matter, instead of in public session, as it could be related to potential litigation. He also said that the board couldn’t discuss the reputation of a town employee or official in public and would probably be able to go into executive session in that situation, too.
Either way, the details won’t stay hidden under the town beach blanket forever. In Dracut, despite a strong and persistent undercurrent, the truth eventually floats up to the surface. Beware of more rough seas ahead…
Brian Genest is chairman of the Dracut Republican Town Committee and a member of the Massachusetts Republican State Committee representing the Second Essex & Middlesex district of Andover, Dracut, Lawrence and Tewksbury. ◊