Attorney General Maura Healey is reviewing a decision by Lowell Town Manager James Duggan to select a Hooksett, N.H., firm to construct a security fence around the police department despite receiving a quote from a local firm that would have done the job for several thousand dollars less.
The fence contract is just one of several municipal jobs that have put Duggan at loggerheads with Selectman Joseph DiRocco Jr., while drawing scrutiny from the state.
The procurement controversy spilled into the open during a recent meeting of the Board of Selectmen, during which DiRocco put Duggan on the defensive.
“There again, it had two bids,” DiRocco said, referring to the fence job. “Hooksett, New Hampshire, got the job and there was one other one from Billerica.”
The Billerica company, R.D. Fence Co., bid $31,500. The Hooksett company’s bid was $39,840.
Hooksett, just south of Concord, coincidentally is the hometown of Police Chief Peter Bartlett. Bartlett was the top cop in that community before being hired by Duggan to replace Kevin Richardson in April 2017.
“That’s another (project) that should have been put in the Central Register and was not,” DiRocco said.
The Central Register that DiRocco referred to is the weekly publication by the secretary of state that contains notices of contracting opportunities for capital facility projects under certain circumstances, one of which includes a cost of $10,000 or more for construction, reconstruction, demolition, repair or maintenance, or purchase of materials.
The register is designed to level the playing field for contractors: All get to see municipal projects on the drawing board.
During the selectmen’s meeting, DiRocco also shared an excerpt from a letter sent to Duggan by a bid-protest hearing attorney at the Attorney General’s Office.
In the email, Assistant Attorney General Deborah Anderson told Duggan she received allegations about certain town projects not being put out to bid properly — all of which were reportedly worth more than $10,000.
Procurement officials need to seek at least three written quotations for supplies and services valued between $10,000 and $50,000. In this case, there were only two.
The issue around procurement procedures in town first arose publicly over the summer, when DiRocco brought it up at a selectmen’s meeting. He hinted that it appeared as though the town did not adhere to Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 30B, on procurement procedures, with certain projects.