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A Contract or a Handshake?

Lawrence City Council President Patrick Blanchette

According to Massachusetts General Laws, in order for cities and towns to award contracts, they must first follow proper procurement procedures set forth by the state’s Inspector General’s Office.

Usually, if the city is planning on soliciting services, they have two steps to follow.

First, if the total cost of the contract is less than $5,000, the city must secure at least three “quotes” from possible companies. This ensures that the city gets the right bang for the buck.

However, if the contract is going to exceed $25,000, the city must advertise for such services. Again, the purpose of these laws is to ensure that first the city is getting the right price and secondly, that all companies are given a fair share to bid on such a contract.

For the past four years, the City of Lawrence has seen this process go out the window. It appears that too many contracts are now handled up on the third floor rather than in the Purchasing Office. For too long, the Mayor’s Office has been engaging in contracts that are more than questionable. With just a quick review of contracts over the past few years, one can clearly see the “bid cutting”, no-bid contracts, the filtering of contracts through a third party, and the questionable lack of ethics by some in the administration.

Most recently, the City of Lawrence has decided to “solicit” services for our payroll. The last time I checked, our payroll system was one thing working in city hall. The old saying, “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it”, does not seem to apply in this case. Instead, the “City” has decided to outsource the process by hiring a company without even placing this proposal out for bid. This type of service does fall under Massachusetts General Law and must be “put out to bid.” However, last month this company sent the “City” — I’m sorry — sent Myles Burke a welcome letter thanking him for choosing this company!

This is only one example of the administration skirting the bid laws. They have also done so with the water treatment facility, hiring consultants in the Office of Planning and Development, hiring lobbyists through third parties (check our legal bills), engaging in contracts with non-recognized companies or non-profits, the cable contract, and again with the Capital Improvement projects.

I know that I will be criticized if I don’t give MY solution to ALL these problems. I don’t want to appear like a “Monday Morning Quarterback”. We shall all remember that it is not the answer that enlightens, but rather the question. So, my solution is very easy, my answer is very brief ... FOLLOW THE LAW! Perhaps my questions are more difficult?

The law is in place to help communities, not hurt them. Contracts can no longer be drafted/solicited in hallways, on elevators, over lunch, on the golf course or even over the phone. The City needs to make sure the Procurement Office handles all contracts in order for the law to be properly followed.

When the law is followed, the residents shall have confidence that things are handled in a fair and ethical manner. When the law is followed, I shall have confidence, rather than questions.

The people of Lawrence deserve leaders that follow the law, which is the very oath we as elected officials take upon entering office!

Keep an eye on your elected officials!

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Prior Columns by Pat Blanchette