Tewksbury schools broke bidding laws for years, audit finds
By Joyce Tsai, email@example.com
Updated: 02/20/2011 06:41:11 AM EST
TEWKSBURY -- A highly anticipated third-party audit of the School Department's procurement procedures from 2001 to 2009, examining red flags in the bidding for school-maintenance jobs, confirms that the department violated the state's uniform-procurement laws.
The audit by Powers and Sullivan was prompted by allegations of potential bid-splitting by the School Department that surfaced with the termination of former town wiring inspector Jeremiah "Jay" Delaney last year.
"We could not find evidence documenting that sound business practices were used in any of the years under review," the audit report states.
"Sound business practices" refers to the act of ensuring that taxpayers receive the best price for services and goods by requiring that local governments solicit price lists or quotes on a periodic basis.
"Documentation of the bid process is haphazard, inconsistent and incomplete," the report continues. State law requires that procurement officers who award contracts of $5,000 or more maintain a file on each contract for at least six years from the date of the final payment. Yet, auditors found that when bid documentation existed, it "did not identify the person spoken with, the date of contract, method of communication, etc."
Auditors also found "no standardization in policy, process, or documentation related to the purchases in question."
"Clear documentation of the work to be performed as part of the bid process does not exist," the report states.
Auditors found the department "had inadequate or no documentation of actual bids" for 23 out 130 transactions, totaling $48,790, that were performed by Delaney-associated companies BST, DEI or JCOR, according to its report. It also determined that bids should have been considered in eight out of the nine years reviewed, since annual transactions with those companies totaled more than $5,000.
In fact, they ranged between $7,055 to $39,284 annually. State law requires that local governments seek written or oral proposals by phone from at least three contractors before awarding a job, or set of related jobs, valued above $5,000.
Some "transactions should have been put to bid due to their nature, timing and the dollar amount of the work performed," the report states.
School Committee Chairman Michael Kelley said the audit "provides third-party validation" of problems uncovered by Town Manager Richard Montuori.
"One of the things the report highlighted was our complete lack of controls around procurement and I think that's something our administration needs to address," Kelley said. "I wouldn't try to delve into intent, but there were clear violations of the law -- dramatic violations of the law. It highlights systematic failures in the school's procurement process.
"The board and school administration needs to be reported to the Inspector General's Office and the State Ethics Commission" to determine intent or possible wrongdoing, Kelley said. He said he plans to put his recommendation to a School Committee vote during its March 9 meeting.
Superintendent of Schools John O'Connor downplayed the audit's findings.
"There appears to be some lapses," he said. "But overall, if we were to compare the entire body of work over that time, we've been doing a fine job of following protocols, good business practices, procedures and state law."
O'Connor also emphasized the report did not go into reasons for the lapses, focusing rather on the lack of required documentation to show that the law had been followed.
"We have in a few instances taken some shortcuts in an effort to get the job done or save the school district some funds," O'Connor said. "And there should have been some higher-level recognition that those decisions made were not necessary in line with sound business practices and school board policies."
O'Connor said he was not planning to reprimand or fire anyone in the School Department for the audit's findings, but he planned to have the staff review the proper policies so they are put in place.
"Those decisions that were made by (the business manager, former school maintenance foreman and school administrators) were made in the best interest of the school district and the community," he said, adding that Delaney's companies charged a fair rate for their work.
School District Business Manager Jack Quinn said that as chief procurement officer, "I would hold myself responsible (for problems found in the audit) since that's my office.
"We have to make sure it's all in a nice and crisp file, in a manner where it all gets documented -- and in a way that's accessible to people," he said of the procurement process. "And we need to understand how much business we have in the pipeline and pay attention to the aggregate amount of dollars."
He also added that an unknown number of documents were lost from flooding in 2004 or 2005, which may have contributed to the problems.
Quinn has said he left his former maintenance foreman, James Sharkey, to make day-to-day decisions about how to dole out work. Sharkey, who retired last year, could not be reached for comment about the audit, despite repeated calls to his home and cell phone.
When reached on Friday, Delaney said he hadn't yet learned of the audit's results. He said he still feels, six months after his firing, that he's been unfairly singled out, since he's the only one who was fired for what appears to be to "a systematic failure."
Delaney said through the years he was often called upon to do work for the schools, and sometimes the town, on emergency notice, because he did the work swiftly and was always available at a fair rate. But that became unacceptable with a change in policies and leadership in the town in the past year or so, he said.
"Why couldn't they just come out and say there were some policy mistakes?" he said.
Instead, "everyone sits there happily writing new policies," he said. "And everyone is going to sign it and see it. And I am the only dope to get fired so they could get into their new policies. I am the only one."
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