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New London — Department of Public Works employees violated the city's purchasing ordinance several times during the renovation of the city's animal shelter by not obtaining the requisite three quotes for work of more than $3,000 and by asking contractors to split work into multiple invoices to avoid complying with purchasing regulations, an investigation by the city's attorney revealed.
Though the city's regulations for awarding contracts and making purchases were violated, Law Director Jeffrey T. Londregan said that there did not appear to be criminal activity.
In January, after city councilors suggested the state attorney general should look into the project, Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio ordered Londregan to look into the project's expenditures. The city spent more than $160,000 to rebuild the animal shelter after a tree fell through it during Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
Finizio presented Londregan's report to the City Council at its meeting Monday night.
Londregan found that some supplies and contracted work cost more than $3,000 but the Department of Public Works did not first get three estimates, as required by city ordinance. He also concluded that — at the request of city employees — contractors split their billing into multiple invoices so none would exceed the $3,000 limit.
"While some of these violations may appear to have been innocent enough to some, or done with good intentions of getting the job completed as soon as possible, they are still violations," Londregan wrote. "While the intention for these scopes of services might not have been to intentionally violate the purchasing ordinance, there was a reckless disregard for the proper procedure and process."
As to whether the actions cost the city money, he wrote, "After completing my investigation, it is not known whether the city overpaid for some portions of this job as a result of the violations; nor is it known whether any of the activities by city employees resulted in any criminal violations."
Londregan said that, in his opinion, the evidence indicates that no criminal activity occurred, but the State's Attorney's office would be better suited to make that determination.
Finizio said a member of the public works union was given an oral warning and a member of the municipal employees union was issued a written admonition for their involvement in the purchase order violations.
Councilor Martin T. Olsen, who supported asking the state to conduct an independent review of the project in January, said Londregan's report left many questions unanswered.
"No new ground was broken. We knew the purchasing ordinance was abused, the question is why," he said. "Where is the oversight? Where is the administration? How can mid-level managers spend this kind of money without a supervisor approving it?"
Olsen, who chairs the council's Public Works Committee, said he intends to request that the City Council accept Londregan's report for the record and refer it to his committee so the issue can get a full and public airing.
Splitting invoices to keep them under $3,000 is something that the Public Works Department has been doing for some time, Finizio said.
"It appears that the pattern of breaking up contracts for bid is something that goes back many, many years in this department," he said in presenting the report to the City Council. "And that the purchasing ordinance … has been violated numerous times over the last 10 years."
After reviewing Londregan's investigation, the mayor issued an executive order instructing all city departments to make any necessary changes in procedures so that all purchases comply with the city's ordinances.
In his report, Londregan also suggested that the city's purchasing ordinance is out of date and in need of revision. Finizio said Monday the council could expect a new ordinance will be presented to them soon.
Finizio also announced Monday that the animal shelter has passed all necessary inspections and has re-opened. Animals have not returned to the shelter, but that could happen any day.
"I'm grateful that not only is our facility reopened, but now our facility is expanded, is fully up to code and is able to take these animals back," Finizio said. "Hopefully all of us can celebrate that fact amidst all the rest of this and see to it that we continue our community efforts to get these animals adopted."