As a member of the Representative Town Meeting, I have a duty to my constituents to understand the facts surrounding any proposal that we are asked to approve. In addition to understanding the need for the proposed project, I want to know, among other things, whether all permitting requirements have been met and whether the purchasing and bidding processes were followed. I expect town staff to give us this information in their presentations to the RTM and if further information is requested, to furnish that in a timely manner so we can be informed by the time we need to vote. Particularly in view of the fill pile issues and the irregularities that were revealed by the DPW audit and the resulting recommendations for changes to purchasing procedures, I feel it is the duty of the Board of Finance and the RTM to scrutinize the process followed in connection with each proposal that comes before us. I would hope that my fellow RTM members from both parties feel this way, as I know that no one wants to see another betrayal of trust like the one we saw several years ago.
READ MORE: Questions Of Transparency Arise As Gould Manor Funds Approved
I was very happy to approve the proposed expenditure for improvements to Gould Manor Park when it came before the RTM in June. The park clearly needed renovation, and it is located in my district, so I was happy that my constituents would be able to enjoy the park again. After that vote the renovation of the bathrooms, replacement of the fence and addition of a new scoreboard were added to the project, so the administration came back to the BOF and RTM over the past month or so to ask for another $450,000 for that work and some remediation of historic contamination and repairs. Details about the additional plans and the process were vague when presented to the BOF. RTM members then asked many questions via email in advance of the special meeting that was requested to consider approval of this extra funding. Some of those questions were not answered and in some cases the answers changed repeatedly. For example, the BOF was told that renovation of the bathrooms at the park was on the waterfall chart, meaning that the BOF had already scheduled bonding for that project, although in the future. When asked about this by the RTM in an email, the administration answered that the bathroom renovation was not its own item in the waterfall chart but was grouped in with other projects. At the meeting of the RTM on Jan. 3, we were told that the bathroom renovation had been planned to be a future operating expense and not, in fact, on the waterfall. (If a department has an operating expense, it comes out of its budget and the department must find a way to pay for it. If it is bonded, which was the request here, the taxpayers pay for it in addition to the budget items by way of bond payments.)
On Dec. 17 a request was made to the administration for copies of the bids that were received by the town on the work at Gould Manor. Having not received those bids by Dec. 30, another request was made. Our town CAO Mr. Bremer responded that “there [were] no specific Gould Manor RFPs issued as that would have caused a loss of another year and not guarantee the Town any savings. That means that the contractors who were all selected for work at Gould Manor were 1) the “winners” of previous RFPs and 2) had a history with the Town departments on a number of projects who were responsible for various portions of the project. Accordingly, all the work was given to the relevant successful RFP contractors.” Mr. Bremer attached a copy of the town’s current purchasing policy, which requires “formal bid procedures” for expenses in excess of $15,000. At the RTM meeting, we were told that there were, in fact, bids on work other than the remediation and that they would be provided to us. As of this writing, on Jan. 9, we have not received them. The previous administration’s failure to follow this purchasing process led to corruption and is a focus of the DPW audit.
Because the bids and other items of information were requested and promised at the RTM meeting, I moved that the vote be postponed so that RTM members could review that information before voting. That motion passed. There were then claims that postponing the vote could delay the opening of baseball season at the park, and eventually the project came up for a vote despite the initial agreement to postpone. I voted to approve because, regardless of the fact that processes were not followed as they should have been and there was a lack of transparency, I didn’t want my constituents to suffer if there was further delay caused by how the project was handled. The funding was approved.
In the future, I expect the administration to provide all relevant information regarding any item that the RTM must vote on. If it is not provided at the RTM’s committee meeting prior to the vote, timely and complete answers must be provided prior to the vote. Without that, I don’t see how the RTM can responsibly vote on an item.
Karen Wackerman
RTM representative, District 7