Editor's Note: The Herald Gazette is awaiting clarification on two subjects' comments on this story. This page will be updated as we receive their responses.
Early this week, Glen Cove Mayor Tim Tenke called for a special meeting of the City Council to be held Tuesday evening. Before the meeting was called to order, Tenke told those in attendance that he expected it to be a quick one. That hope was dashed when council members and the audience were told that the city had paid a contractor more than $150,000 without ever actually signing a contract, and that it had taken over a year for anyone to notice.
The contractor was released several weeks ago, when city officials discovered the mix-up.
The reason for the unscheduled meeting — which was not disclosed until minutes before it began — was a series of “time-sensitive” resolutions meant to update the city’s plan to sell half of the old Coles School property to Tiegerman, a school for those with special language and communication needs. Tiegerman has looming deadlines related to its financing of the project, among other things, according to McQuair, and the resolutions could not wait until the next scheduled council meeting on Aug. 28.
Aside from concerns raised by Councilwoman Marsha Silverman — who was incredulous that a special meeting had to be called at the last minute to discuss a deal that had been in the works for seven months — the Coles school resolutions generated little controversy.
But an unrelated resolution — to spend $5,000 on a contract to study the state of the bathrooms in Morgan Park — did raise the hackles of several members of the public.
In April 2017, the City Council approved a bid by East Coast USA Construction Inc. to renovate the Morgan Park bathhouse. Normally, after the council approves a bid, it passes a resolution authorizing the mayor to sign a contract with the winner of the bid. In this case, however, no resolution was passed and no contract was signed.
The bid was awarded to the Richmond Hill, N.Y., company after it was deemed to be the “lowest responsible bidder.” According to the city’s procurement procedures, that determination is made by a department head — in this case, Darcy Belyea of the Parks and Recreation Department, in conjunction with the city’s purchasing agent. East Coast USA, which submitted the lower of two bids, estimated the renovations’ cost at $259,000. The other bid, for $644,000, came from Woodstock Construction Group.
Belyea told the Herald Gazette at the time that she initially thought East Coast USA’s estimate was too low, but then she made some calls. “I called five references for them, and they got glowing reviews,” she said.
BuildZoom, an online rating site for contractors, ranked East Coast USA in the lowest possible category, “Alert,” which is one level worse than “Poor.”
Warrants that detail the city’s financial outlays show that in October 2017, East Coast USA was paid $57,750 out of the recreation department budget. In March of this year, $96,650 was paid out of the same budget.
Councilman Joseph Capobianco said that he learned at a pre-council meeting in mid-June that the construction company was not doing a good job, and that the city was seeking to oust it.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Tenke said that Belyea was ultimately responsible for authorizing the work at Morgan Park, and that the city’s controller, Sandra Clarson, was responsible for signing warrant checks after approval by the council.
McQuair told the Herald through city spokeswoman Lisa Travatello that the bid included a contract, which the council approved along with the bid.
Belyea told the Herald Gazette that the Morgan Park bathhouse project was one of the only times that her department was charged with overseeing building construction, that in retrospect, she should have double checked that the contract had been signed before authorizing work under it and that there was a "learning curve" to these things.
Around the time the council approved the second payment to East Coast USA, Silverman noted at a council meeting that the level of detail in the warrants was insufficient to allow council members to adequately scrutinize them, forcing them to defer to the same department heads they are charged with overseeing.
Now that the construction company has been taken off the project, the next step for the city is to issue a second request for bids. Tenke said that the project would no longer be managed by Parks and Recreation, but would be taken over by Lou Saulino, who heads the city’s Department of Public Works.
Since work has been done, however, the new request for bids must take that into account. The resolution presented at the emergency meeting would have paid for a contractor to conduct a survey of the restrooms to give Saulino a better idea of the scope of work.
The resolution failed, however, after several members of the public raised concerns about spending money unnecessarily when, they said, the assessment could just as easily be done by salaried DPW professionals.
Tenke said that until a study was completed, he couldn’t say when the park’s bathrooms might reopened.
During the public comment session, Theresa Moschetta, an insurance executive and a 13-year member of the Zoning Board of Appeals, criticized the council for its sluggish pace in getting the new finance committee — whose mission statement was approved in May — up and running. Moschetta had been appointed to fill one of three seats on the committee, but was voted down last week by Republicans council members, who cited a need for “new blood” in the city’s institutions.
The finance committee — which is charged specifically with examining procurement procedures like those now in focus in the Morgan Park situation — has been a priority for Silverman since she took office in January.
Moschetta probed the council for answers about East Coast USA. “How many people dropped this ball?” she asked, adding, “If this happened in corporate America, people would be held accountable.”
Another finance committee hopeful, Carolyn Dilgard-Clark, a Glen Cove native with a decade of experience in procurement law, told the council that she had submitted her resume for consideration months ago, but had gotten no response. She said she thought the council might have found more qualified candidates, but given the still-empty committee seats, she said, she was curious. “I hate to ask publicly,” she asked, “but is my name still being considered?”
“The only person in this room that can put something on the agenda is the mayor,” Councilman Kevin Maccarone responded. “He has about 15 to 20 [resumes], so if he puts them up, then we’ll discuss them and vote on them.”
Tenke did not directly answer Dilgard-Clark’s question.
Danielle Agoglia contributed to this story.