Oak Bluffs $26K boat repair done with no bid, no budget

The Oak Bluffs fire and police rescue boat is docked in Oak Bluffs harbor. Repairs to her hull cost taxpayers $26,100. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Oak Bluffs selectmen and the town’s finance and advisory committee agreed on Tuesday to make $55,020 in year-end transfers to balance the books for fiscal year 2013, which ended on June 30. Included in that amount was a $26,100 bill for the repair of the town’s fire and police rescue boat, incurred without the approval of selectmen.

The failure of emergency management director Peter Martell to follow proper bidding procedures drew sharp questions from finance and advisory committee members.

Mr. Martell ordered the extensive repairs without competitive bidding as required by state procurement laws, and without the knowledge of the selectmen or town finance officials, according to Walter Vail, chairman of the board of selectmen. There was no money in the emergency management budget for the repairs. No appropriation was authorized by town meeting voters.

“Peter Martell takes full responsibility,” Mr. Vail said. “He’s not going to do that again.”

Mr. Vail said the boat was damaged when a power cord strung from the shore while the boat was in its berth at the East Chop Drive boat landing caused a chemical reaction with the aluminum hull. The problem was discovered in December of 2011. Mr. Martell transported the boat by trailer to MetalCraft Marine in Cape Vincent, on Lake Ontario, where repairs were made over the next several months.

MetalCraft Marine built the rescue vessel. The town received the bill in November, 2012, detailing 454 hours of labor and materials required to replace the bottom part of the hull.

Selectmen acknowledged the work did not qualify as an emergency repair.

“He had plenty of time to get this into his budget. Why didn’t he?” finance and advisory committee member Bill Alwardt asked.

Committee member Maura McGroarty asked how the repairs could have been ordered without the knowledge of town officials.

“It wasn’t an emergency, we didn’t know about it,” Ms. McGroarty said. “Is there a process that should have happened?”

Town administrator Bob Whritenour assured the elected officials that department heads are now aware of proper procurement procedures.

“We have attacked head-on all of the issues of procurement,” Mr. Whritenour said. “Right now there are processes in place for department heads. They know about it now.”

At the time Mr. Martell ordered the repairs, the town was under scrutiny by the office of the Massachusetts Attorney General for faulty bidding procedures. In June of 2011, the attorney general’s bid protest unit issued a sharply worded decision saying town officials followed a “pattern of disregard” by violating competitive bidding laws, and failed to follow their own bidding bylaws when hiring contractors for goods and services.

While stopping short of fines or sanctions, the attorney general’s bid protest unit said it would closely monitor the town’s procurement of goods and services for the next year, require detailed reports on purchasing, and conduct training for local officials on procurement laws.

In November of 2011, shortly after Mr. Whritenour was appointed as interim town administrator, he organized procurement training for all Oak Bluffs town employees who handle contracts for goods and services. He also submitted quarterly reports on the town’s procurement.

“When I came here, the procurement standards were in disarray,” Mr. Whritenour said in a phone interview Wednesday morning. “Procurement has been a major focus of emphasis. I’ve worked directly with the attorney general’s office. What we’ve been able to do, even if it’s an emergency, there are standards for procurement now in everything we do.”

Mr. Martell was re-appointed for a three-year term as emergency management director by the board of selectmen in 2010. The board is scheduled to consider his appointment to another term at their meeting on July 23.

“I don’t know if this is going to impact that,” Mr. Vail told The Times Wednesday. “Nothing is ever black and white in cases like this. Peter is a very good emergency management director in terms of what he knows, what he’s done, and how he does planning. For now there really isn’t anybody to take Peter’s place.”

Food fight continued

In other action at Tuesday’s meeting, for the fourth consecutive meeting, selectmen debated proposed rules to regulate food trucks in the town. They took no action, but agreed to hold a public hearing on July 23 to gather information and hear what taxpayers, local businesses, and food truck operators think about the regulations.

Under consideration are draft regulations that would effectively ban food trucks in the downtown area, or limit food trucks to the three licenses already issued for mobile food vendors on state property next to the Joseph A. Sylva State Beach.

Selectmen also voted 3-1 to continue angled parking on North Bluff, over the objections of several residents who protested that it creates a dangerous traffic hazard. There have been no accidents there since the town changed the parking arrangement more than a year ago, according to police.

Mr. Vail joined selectmen Mike Santoro and Greg Coogan in favor of the current parking plan, while selectman Gail Barmakian cast the dissenting vote. Selectman Kathy Burton did not attend the meeting.

Selectmen also authorized an exception to the ban on summer construction work in the downtown area, to allow contractors two mornings to remove scaffolding from the Island Theater, and make a limited structural repair to the roof.