Two bids were discussed at length during the Dec. 17 City Council meeting, including one involving the purchase of tires for the Department of Public Works (DPW) for $110,000 from the sole bidder, Sullivan Tire.
The second bid was for the city’s Management Information Service (MIS) division. The object is to bring in a professional consultant to look at the division’s equipment and personnel, and put together a plan to make it more efficient and responsive. The bid was awarded to Apex Technology Group Inc. for $14,900.
While the MIS bid was approved in full, only $55,000 of the DPW bid was awarded, as suggested by Ward 9 Councilman Steven Merolla. At first, he proposed holding the bid for further study, to review documents about how many tires are used, how often they are replaced, how many vehicles the department operates, and what vehicles the tires go on.
Because the bid expires Dec. 31, and the next council meeting is in January, Merolla recommended awarding half the bid.
“We buy tires just about every day of the week, so trucks will be down even if we don’t have a bid in place, including garbage trucks, fire trucks – whatever it might be,” said DPW Acting Director David Picozzi.
Christy Woodbury of the DPW said most tire prices have gone up, some as much as 20 percent. She said tires cost $90,280 last year compared to this year’s $110,000. The amount is for all departments except for Police.
Commander and Deputy Chief of the WPD Michael Babula also noticed the increase. Babula said the increase is about 18 percent higher. Last year, they spent about $23,700 on tires.
“Whether the $24,000 I budgeted for is going to be enough for this, given the large price rise, I’m not certain,” he said. “We’ll see what happens as the year goes on.”
Merolla’s questions surfaced in Council Chambers. Again, he asked for a breakdown of the information, including mileage of the tires and how long before tires are changed. He also asked if there is an accounting system that logs the information.
“I don’t know that we necessarily keep track of mileage on the tires,” Woodbury said. “We replace tires as they wear. We repair tires instead of replacing them if we can.”
Woodbury went on to say that when they go out to bid, they need a variety of tires for specific purposes and particular vehicles. She said Sullivan offers discounts on certain types. The DPW’s 22 sanitation trucks require tires that are different from forklifts.
“I’m sure I could request from the vender a breakdown of the tires we purchased in the past bid,” she said. “It might take a couple of weeks to get that and see if it’s something he can provide.”
Woodbury said that DPW provides tires for vehicles used by the Fire Department and their own vehicles. The department also supplies tires for Transwick buses.
She said the DPW would have to speak with the automotive chief to identify what tires are on particular vehicles.
“There are a lot of things that we have to look at,” she said, adding that the invoices the DPW receives typically list vehicle numbers. “Otherwise, their stock person or automotive employee knows which vehicles the tires go on, as he makes the arrangements.”
Woodbury said mechanics determine whether a vehicle needs tires. The drivers also notify them when their tread is low.
“I personally would like to see a copy from Sullivan before I vote to see how many vehicles we’re putting tires on and how often we are putting new tires on,” Merolla said. “I realize there’s a cost increase of the products, but I would be interested in seeing that information before I vote.”
Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson asked if Merolla was inquiring for an overview for DPW tires, or tires used by police, too. Merolla said he’d like to see those figures, as well, though he is particularly interested in DPW. Moments later, the council unanimously voted to award half the bid.
During a brief phone interview last week, Merolla said he made the inquiries after residents contacted him and asked about the bid. He thought the bid seemed high compared to last year.
Resident Rob Cote spoke during the 15-minute comment portion of the meeting, and requested the council do a full forensic audit of the DPW, as a few DPW employees have been involved with alleged theft from the department within the last year and a half.
In terms of the MIS bid, several council members are pleased a consultant will be reviewing the division, as there have been concerns about the department from the division itself. Council President Bruce Place praised the action, saying he feels it will improve the productivity of the department and the city. Ward 7 Councilman Charles “C.J.” Donovan said he was happy to see the item on the agenda, as it has been an issue for years.
"I think this poses a great opportunity for the city to save some money if it's done properly," he said. "I look forward to working with you and offering my services. Should you need any assistance, I'd like to be part of the process.”
Donovan, along with Vella-Wilkinson, also asked if Apex Technology was looking into the School Department in addition to MIS.
The Mayor’s Chief of Staff, Mark Carruolo, said the administration contacted the School District in October about participating. He said initially they were, and sent him a list of items they wanted included in the specifications. He amended the specifications accordingly, and sent back the information to them.
“At that point, they decided not to proceed with the joint bid with the city,” Carruolo said. “Several days later, I received an email from the superintendent saying, ‘We don’t want to hold up the city. We think this is something that we may have to address with our School Committee.’ Every person on the School Committee was copied on the emails I had sent.”
Vella-Wilkinson expressed her concerns, as similar situations happened in the past. As an example, she said a bid came before the council in September involving an emergency management system. Chief Ed Armstrong of the Fire Department went out to bid for it, and Carruolo contacted the School Department to see if they wanted to be part of it.
“They thought it was a good idea, and then all of a sudden [they] said no,” Vella-Wilkinson said. “In that case, however, the School Committee chair was not notified. I immediately sent an email to [School Committee member] Gene Nadeau and said, ‘What gives? We would have saved the School District $30,000.’ And that was right around the same time they had to eliminate the mentor program for failure of $26,000. We’re in the same situation here. I’m at a loss.”
She wondered if it would be beneficial for the council to have a joint meeting with the School Committee to figure out what the issue is.
“It just seems that there’s just a tremendous disconnect,” she said. “It appears that every time we try to join with them for something that’s going to save our taxpayers money, we’re rebuffed, and I’m frustrated.”
Ward 6 Councilwoman Donna Travis nodded in agreement, while Gallucci added, “We cannot force them to do it, but we could have a meeting.”
Ward 4 Councilman Joseph Solomon asked why Apex Technology was selected when the company’s bid was $14,900, in contrast to the lowest bid, which was $13,200.
Carruolo said that Apex was the lowest qualifying bidder, as the other company was disqualified because its bid did not contain any of the required information, including a list of qualified professionals, a minimum of 10 years experience, a minimum of five governmental agencies having performed the work for, examples of qualifications and similar experience, and examples of past work projects.
A complete look at the division and its system is necessary, said Carruolo, as different people are responsible for particular segments.
“There isn’t an individual in the department that could give us an overall picture of where we are and where we should be going,” Carruolo said.