Report finds Meriden city manager did not violate purchasing policy

Report finds Meriden city manager did not violate purchasing policy


MERIDEN — A law firm has concluded that City Manager Guy Scaife did not violate city policies during the selection process for a workers’ compensation administrator, though Scaife did create the appearance of favoritism by meeting with the vendor that was ultimately awarded the contract.

The City Council reviewed the investigation’s findings during a closed-door executive session Monday night and also completed Scaife’s performance review, which had been on hold since August pending the completion of the investigation.

On Sept. 1, the city switched from PMA Companies to Connecticut Interlocal Risk Management Agency following a selection process which initially showed PMA to be less expensive. However, the city opted to go with CIRMA after citing customer service deficiencies with PMA. Scaife met with officials from CIRMA on Jan. 4 while the selection was still underway.

The city’s corporation counsel, attorney Michael Quinn, hired the law firm Berchem, Moses & Devlin on Aug. 16 to investigate if Scaife had violated city policies and if Scaife’s contact with the winning company could invalidate the process. The investigation is estimated to have cost $18,100.

Quinn said he chose to bring in an outside law firm because City Attorney Deborah Moore had served on the selection committee and the city’s legal department “should not arbitrate disputes among employees.”

Attorney Paula Anthony conducted interviews with city employees, including Scaife, Purchasing Officer Wilma Petro, Moore, Finance Director Michael Lupkas, Economic Development Director Juliet Burdelski and Human Resources Director Marci Nogueira, in addition to CIRMA employees Terry Perry and Bruce Clinger and attorney Thomas Weaver. Representatives from PMA do not appear to have been interviewed as part of the investigation.

The review laid out a timeline of events and examined Scaife’s actions. The city released a request for proposals for the city’s self-insured workers’ compensation program on Oct. 14, 2016, about five weeks after Scaife was hired. Scaife met with CIRMA representatives on Jan. 4 to discuss, among other topics, the potential to bundle services for further savings. Burdelski was called into that meeting to discuss possible office space in the city for CIRMA, which planned to move from its New Haven offices.

The City Charter stipulates that during an RFP process, “All such contracts shall be awarded to the lowest responsible person, provided, however, if it is deemed by the City Manager to be in the best interest of the City to reject all such bids or proposals, or to otherwise award such contract, such contract shall be awarded in conformity through bid waiver procedure.”

After conducting interviews and reviewing documents and records, Anthony concluded evidence does not support Scaife violated the city’s procurement policies and procedures during the selection process, nor did Scaife’s January meeting “result in impermissible favoritism so as to invalidate the RFP process.” Scaife did not violate the city’s Code of Ethics, nor did he have any direct or indirect personal interest in CIRMA’s selection. Scaife’s January meeting “was not concealed,” Anthony notes.

“However, there is sufficient evidence to support the conclusion that the contact between Scaife and CIRMA created the appearance of preferential treatment, and was not in accordance with best practices relative to the competitive process so as to ensure all prospective bidders and proposers are on equal footing in seeking City business,” Anthony states. “Even the appearance of favoritism is to be avoided at all costs and the public’s confidence in the integrity of the procurement maintained. It is recommended that in the future, contact with prospective vendors be avoided during the competitive process, except as necessary for the conduct of existing city business, even on matters unrelated to the pending bid or request for proposal.”

Anthony recommended that in the future, all contact with companies during the process should be made through Petro.

Quinn said he was pleased with Anthony’s work on the investigation.

“I stand by her conclusion,” Quinn said.

Scaife said he was glad Anthony’s report cleared him of wrongdoing, adding “the facts speak for themselves.” Scaife did, however, raise concerns regarding the length and cost of the investigation, questioning why the City Charter, Code of Ordinances and Purchasing Guidelines were not reviewed internally prior to the probe being launched.

“I believe most citizens would expect the most basic level of internal due diligence be completed prior to this type financial commitment,” Scaife wrote in a statement. “It should not take 26 pages of written investigative narrative at an estimated cost of $18,100 to tell us what our documents say and it should not take 2½ months to figure this out.”

While acknowledging his conduct during the RFP process “could have created an appearance of preferential treatment if you did not know the facts,” Scaife said that the January meeting with CIRMA “directly led to the eventual $534,000 savings in the FY18 budget,” due to a competitive bid being issued by CIRMA and HD Segur, the city’s auto, property and liability insurer.

City Council Majority Leader Brian Daniels said he was not surprised by the outcome of the investigation.

“The entire process was very transparent, I think attorney Anthony said it in her report,” Daniels said. “I think her conclusions were correct.”

Minority Leader Dan Brunet also anticipated the report’s findings and said a similar sequence of events had already been relayed to Council leadership by Scaife.

“I had no doubt the result would show no intent although there could be a perception by those looking to create issues with the city manager,” Brunet said. “The prolonged nature of the so-called investigation was a distraction from all the positives that are taking place.”

The council also completed its performance review of Scaife Monday night. Although a motion to add a resolution to give Scaife a raise based on his performance failed, the council will still be able to add it to the next meeting’s agenda as a formal item.

Daniels said he would be in favor of giving Scaife a rate increase.

“Guy had a good first year. I think it was a good transition period. I think he identified a number of areas in the city’s operations that had room for improvement. He works extremely hard,” Daniels said.
Twitter: @LeighTaussRJ

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