Edgartown accepts county fuel contract


Edgartown selectmen Monday agreed to purchase heating oil for town buildings from the R.M. Packer Company in Tisbury, through a joint county-wide contract.

Under the terms of a contract negotiated by Dukes County manager Russell Smith, Mr. Packer will sell heating oil to Edgartown at a rate of $0.52/gal. above the “Boston rack price,” a standard index that fluctuates with the wholesale supply and demand of fuel oil. Mr. Packer has also offered to supply three kinds of diesel fuel and kerosene to local governments and agencies at the same price, an offer made outside the negotiated contract.

Mr. Smith plans to present the joint procurement contract to all Island towns. Any town or public organization that wishes to receive the negotiated price must agree to purchase fuel from R.M. Packer through the end of the fiscal year, June 30, 2011.

Feeling the heat

Mr. Packer’s low bid and Edgartown’s acceptance of the county contract put a positive spin on what one veteran county commissioner initially described as a fiasco.

In July, following a request for proposals (RFP) to supply fuel oil to public buildings, Mr. Smith rejected a low bid of $0.64/gal. against the index, submitted by Island Fuel and issued a new RFP with changed specifications.

The earlier RFP did not include a requirement for on-Island storage capabilities. The new RFP required storage.

At the time, Jay McMann, co-owner of Island Fuel, whose low bid went nowhere when the first round of bidding was abandoned, along with the higher bid of R.M. Packer Company, told The Times his company received a call from the Inspector General’s office in response to a letter he sent expressing his company’s objections to a bidding procedure he described as flawed and unfair (Aug. 11, “County rejects fuel contract bids, rewrites rules“).

The second time around, R.M. Packer was the low bidder with a price $0.16 less than his earlier bid, opened on July 23. Vineyard Propane, a new bidder, submitted a price of $0.60 above Boston rack price. Island Fuel sat out.

In a story published Aug. 18 (In do over, R.M. Packer lowers bid for county fuel contract), county commissioner John Alley, the longest serving member of the commission, objected. “It’s the wrong thing to do. I don’t understand the rationale for that. It isn’t right, and it doesn’t look good,” he said in an email to Mr. Smith and the other county commissioners.

Mr. Alley said storage had not been an issue in past years and, “It appears, on the surface, that you did not expect or were surprised by the winning bidder.”

Following reporting that described the bid process, Mr. Smith took issue with The Times and online comments that questioned his integrity.

“The committee has one charge, and that is to deal in the best interest of the public. Questions regarding favoritism did not influence the decision,” Mr. Smith wrote in a Letter to the Editor of The Times, published on Aug. 25.

Mr. Smith continues to defend the contract award process. In the contract cover letter presented to the Edgartown selectmen, Mr. Smith referred to the criticism of the procurement committee and what he described as “strong inferences to misconduct” in the news reports published by The Times.

“Despite strong inferences to misconduct alleged by The M.V. Times,” Mr. Smith wrote, “the committee, (Michael Dutton, O.B., Amy Tierney, M.V. Schools, and myself), believed it was important to require some on-Island storage. We re-advertised the bid. The committee did not act out of favoritism or cronyism and were well within our rights to secure a reliable source of heating oil and protect the public interest.”

Mr. Smith’s reference to The Times’ reports of the bidding process are misguided, the newspaper’s managing editor, Nelson Sigelman, said this week. “The news reports described the clumsy process,” Mr. Sigelman said. “They did so factually. They inferred nothing. Mr. Smith protests too much.”

Asked yesterday in a telephone call where Mr. Packer planned to store heating oil, Mr. Smith referred all questions to Mr. Packer and repeated his assertions.

“I’m a little leery of talking to you for fear of having my character maligned,” Mr. Smith said. “Talk to Mr. Packer.”

In a telephone conversation yesterday, Mr. Packer said he stores all number 2-fuel at his Beach Road facility in Vineyard Haven.

“We have 140,000 gallon storage. We have our own trucks and barges,” Mr. Packer said. “It all depends what the weather conditions are. We try to keep it a third full. But we do have capability to have our own tug and barge replenish inventory in 12 hours.”