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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Rule likely to prevent repeat of debris deal

As published in the Record Journal Friday February 17, 2012

By Russell Blair
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2225

WALLINGFORD - Town employees are allowed to bid on contracts with the town, according to the Town Charter, but a recent event highlights the complications that can occur.

Randy Mangino, a public works employee, had a contract with the town’s Water Department that allowed for debris and fill to be discarded at his Shady Drive disposal site. In January, due to a misreading of the contract, wood cut from the town’s parks by public works employees was improperly disposed of at his site, rather than at a public works yard.

“There was an investigation, but it was determined there was no intentional wrongdoing; the wood was restored,” Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said.

But Dickinson admitted that when contracts overlap with an employee’s work, mistakes can be made.

“We’re planning to make it clear that it’s not a good situation to have a department contract with its employees,” he said.

The charter specifies “no officer or employee shall enter into any contract with the town other than a contract of employment, unless the contract has been awarded through an open and public process, including prior public offer and subsequent public disclosure of all proposals considered.”

Dickinson said that he had been discussing a directive or a mechanism to prevent the same situation from happening again. In his 28 years as mayor, Dickinson said, he’s never seen a similar situation. But when a town employee has a contract with the town, “it’s got to be arm’s length” from his town duties, Dickinson said.

“When any employee is doing business other than as an employee with that department ... it gets too confusing,” he said. “We want to put an end to that practice.” Mangino’s company, Mangino Excavation LLC, was the low bidder for the three-year disposal deal. Under the contract, he was paid $4 in 2009, $5 in 2010 and $6 in 2011 for each cubic yard of debris he picked up and hauled to his site. Four other firms, from Wallingford, Durham, Milford and Orange, submitted bids that were higher.

Mangino could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Corporation Counsel Janis Small said the town was reviewing the provisions in the charter that allow public employees to bid on town contracts and seeing if there’s a way to further define them. There are ways other than a charter revision to address the issues, she said.

“There’s safety in putting something out to bid; everyone has a fair shake,” she said. “But we’re looking at the practicalities of that.”

Small said the charter provision was good, but “it doesn’t take it to the next level.”

“There are still some serious questions,” she said.