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|Posted on February 6, 2015 at 10:10 PM|
Battle for $1.5 million contract plows ahead in Springfield as more snow forecast
SPRINGFIELD - The city's $1.5 million snow removal contract has remained in flux as the city gets hammered with snow. (The Republican file)
on February 06, 2015 at 2:18 PM, updated February 06, 2015 at 8:45 PM
SPRINGFIELD — As the city recovers from a pummeling by two major storms with more snow to come over the weekend, the battle for its $1.5 million municipal snow removal contract plows ahead.
Although, that skirmish has become a bit one-sided. A Northampton company was awarded the exclusive gig about one week ago – roughly a month after longtime vendor Northeast Grounds Management imploded financially and lost all its equipment to its creditors.
Northeast had fallen $45,000 in arrears in excise taxes, was behind on its state payroll tax filings, was bleeding employees and still getting paid by the city, a review by The Republican / MassLive showed. The city ended its contract with that company and put the snow removal and landscaping job back out to bid.
In essence, two primary competitors emerged: Northampton-based Gleason-Johndrow, which has since opened an office in Springfield, and city-based Anderson Services. The two companies were vying for the contract while Northeast was circling the drain. Gleason received a verbal commitment from city officials that was later rescinded by the Procurement Department. The city tweaked the language of the request for bids, only to come to the same result.
While Anderson was the low bidder, Gleason received an award letter – in writing this time – leaving Anderson to cry foul and allege a history of favoritism and back-channel dealing.
"The city of Springfield engaged in gross irregularities in connection with the bidding process in order to have its improperly preferred bidder, Northeast Grounds ... earn the $1.5 million public works contract and to falsely and improperly exclude Anderson Services, a competitor and creditor of Northeast, to be awarded the same," reads a letter from Daniel D. Kelly, a lawyer for Anderson, addressed to Chief Procurement Officer Lauren Stabilo.
Patrick Sullivan, head of the city's Parks and Facilities Department, has defended Northeast's work before the company went under and has said the city did nothing improper.
The contract at issue requires the vendor to handle snow removal and landscaping at public schools, libraries, City Hall and other municipal spots, as opposed to city streets. The latter is the purview of the Department of Public Works. The municipal lots were privatized about a decade ago, and Northeast was the longtime sole vendor.
City officials said they only sensed a whiff of financial trouble when company President William Milbier could not come up with a bond over the summer. T.J. Plante, the city's top financial officer, conceded they allowed Milbier to limp along on a monthly bond in an unusual arrangement. Their aim was to support a reliable local vendor who may have hit a financial bump in the road, he said.
But, the bumps got bigger and creditors seized all of Northeast's heavy equipment in early December. It went up for public auction on Thursday.
Kelly's letter argues Anderson met the original bidding specifications, and has been unfairly and specifically excluded from the second version of the bid request. He attributes what he characterized as an overly critical view of Anderson to "bad blood" between Anderson and Northeast, who were once allies.
"The city came to view Anderson as an enemy of its favored vendor," Kelly wrote. "This begins to explain why the city treated Anderson unfavorably during the supposed open and equal-footing bidding process."
A letter from Stabilo simply states that the city is confident it chose the lowest bidder who was most responsive to the city's request. Stabilo said Kelly's letter will likely have no impact on the process unless Anderson chooses to file a formal complaint with the state Inspector General's office.
Meanwhile, the city hired Palmer-based Northern Tree Service as an emergency snow removal vendor as the bid advanced.
For his part, Mark Anderson, owner of Anderson Services, argues the city will lose money in choosing Gleason over his company.
"We have provided excellent service to over 100 commercial clients since 2003, including Dunkin' Donuts, the Springfield Parking Authority and Comcast, so we're not sure why the City doesn't want to save money during every storm," Anderson said.
The snow removal side of the bid was split into three zones. Anderson bid $30,825 per 3-inch storm for all three; Gleason bid $39,558 for the same range of work. However, the cost for plowing goes up exponentially if snowfalls exceed 9 inches or a foot.
Gleason on Monday declined to comment on Anderson's math, instead deferring to the city's award and suggesting that, given the fiasco with Northeast, its formula probably came down to more than cost-per-inch of snow.
Meanwhile, City Councilor Timothy Rooke has requested that the city's Department of Internal Audit review the the contract with Northeast, its past billing practices and future protocols for the work.
"We need to investigate and look at where we went wrong and that there's not a recurrence," Rooke said.