Contentious debate over competitive bids ordinance unresolved
A long, sometimes emotional, examination Tuesday of a proposed ordinance to require competitive bidding for most town contracts will continue next week.
The Ordinance Committee of the Representative Town Meeting began its review of the proposal that is designed to make competitive bidding procedures, currently set by town policy, officially encoded into law for municipal contracts of $20,000 and above.
Several town employees were on hand to express opposition to the proposed ordinance, which some of the six petitioners who filed the measure said was being delayed to prevent the current RTM from voting on it at its last session in November. Membership of the legislative body will likely change after the Nov. 3 election.
“The perception is that there’s a desire to kill this thing,” said Sylina Levy, RTM District 3. “There seems to be a tremendous pushback from the town.”
“There is a legitimate fear by the petitioners and by our constituents that this ordinance will be killed tonight” or later by the RTM Finance Committee, said John Suggs, RTM District 5, noting that some of the current petitioners may no longer be members after the municipal election.
“The end of this session does not mean this is killed,” said Eileen Flug, the Ordinance Committee chairwoman and RTM moderator, noting she had checked with the town attorney and it would remain on the full body’s agenda to be voted on after it is forwarded on by the Finance Committee.
“The term of office of these elected officials will cease …” Suggs said. “The people that have worked on this and have worked on this need to have their day to be heard … It must come to a vote in November.”
“I can’t guarantee you that it will be ready for RTM vote in November,” Flug said, noting the Blight Ordinance took nine months to bring to the RTM.
Jeffrey Wieser, RTM District 4, who chairs the Finance Committee, indicated he might support the ordinance, but added that if significant changes emerge from the Ordinance Committee, it would require a new first-draft meeting by his committee.
“We’ve had three meetings on this now and we keep going over some of the same grounds … I think an ordinance could be a good idea,” he said.
At the same time, Wieser said, he wants the ordinance to be “something that doesn’t interrupt the current operations of the town … The town runs pretty well.”
“I get criticized out there every day by people who say how slow we are in government,” he said, noting that certain purchases he might have to make on short notice could be slowed by the approval process.
“We have procedures in place that dictate our behavior … but those procedures have certain flexibility in them that allow you to respond to the situations as they occur,” Edwards said. “What I’ve got is a document here that I have a tremendous amount of problem with relative to implementation.”
The petitioners disagreed.
“I think if Mr. Edwards were a lawyer and looked at this, he would understand this is not going to do anything that is going to make things very difficult for him,” said Kristan Hamlin, RTM District 4, who has been spearheading the bidding ordinance.
Discussion Tuesday referred back to an RTM meeting in February at which then-Parks and Recreation Director Stuart McCarthy stated that he did not seek bids a $308,000 Longshore pool repair project on advice by Finance Director Gary Conrad.
First Selectman Jim Marpe later said McCarthy’s claim was wrong and defended Conrad. In response, the Board of Selectmen approved updates to the town’s bidding policy as rewritten by Conrad.
“It is not a solution and we feel that it needs to become a law,” Clarissa Moore, RTM District 4, said of the policy revision.
Moore said that considerable confusion and misunderstanding was evident among RTM members and the town administration at that RTM session, so the bidding rules need to be clarified by defining them in legislation.
“We were put on notice that there is an issue,” said Brandi Briggs, RTM District 6. “This is our way of being proactive and doing something about this.”
The Ordinance Committee is scheduled to reconvene Monday to complete its review of the proposal.