Contract for Top Taveras Staffer Violates City Rules
Thursday, May 01, 2014
D’Amico left his $196,000-a-year position at City Hall on March 14. While still a full-time employee, he negotiated a contract that allows him to work as an independent consultant on the 2015 city budget at a “discounted” rate of $200, according to a copy of the contract obtained by GoLocalProv through a public records request. The document, which was dated February 27, was signed by D’Amico, Taveras, and Jeffrey Padwa, the city solicitor.
The contract expires in June but can be extended for another six months. It does not cap the amount that the city can pay D’Amico. Under the contract, D’Amico can also be reimbursed for any travel expenses, including parking.
According to the city charter and city ordinance, any purchase of services between $500 and $5,000 must be made by the director of public property by going out to bid. Any purchases worth $5,000 or more also must go before the Board of Contract and Supply. But a review of the agendas for the past six months of meetings showed that D’Amico’s contract was never considered by the board.
“I think it’s wrong,” said state Rep. and former Councilman John Lombardi, adding that there should be a revolving door provision barring former employees from benefiting from city work for at least a year. “Apparently this administration doesn’t care.”
When contracts are awarded without a bid, they must also be approved by the city council, according to Councilwoman Sabina Matos. That did not happen, she said. “I think that contract should have gone out to bid. It’s in violation of our ordinance right now,” Matos said.
The city charter makes an exception on the competitive bidding rule for “emergency purchases,” which it defines as “an unforeseen situation, requiring immediate attention in order to safeguard the welfare of the people of the city, and one which renders the process of competitive bidding impractical or impossible.”
D’Amico’s two-page contract with the city makes no allusion to any such “emergency” circumstances. Under the agreement, D’Amico will be helping in preparing the 2015 budget and “other related activities.”
Councilman Kevin Jackson found that language puzzling. “Don’t we already have a director of administration and a director of finance to do that?” he said. (Before his departure, the city announced that Finance Director Larry Mancini would also exercise the duties of finance director.)
Jackson said he found it “strange and ironic” that an administration committed to transparency had bypassed both the council and the Board of Contract and Supply in awarding the contract. “In this case, there’s zero transparency,” Jackson said. “Transparency to me means everything is open.”
Matos, who had not even seen the contract until a reporter showed her a copy, is calling for the administration to appear before the council to explain itself.
Jackson said the administration may think its action is justified because the money for D’Amico’s contract is coming out of the Mayor’s budget—although the charter does not appear to make an exception for that.
“It is completely out of the normal process as to how to handle this type of contract,” Matos said.
D’Amico credited for role in fiscal crisis
A city spokesman refused to answer any questions about the contract—including whether the city went out to bid for the work.
Previously, Taveras has touted it as a way to maintain continuity during a transition period.
D’Amico and Taveras are childhood friends and attended Classical High School in Providence together. D’Amico has served as director of administration since Taveras came into office in 2011. He also took on the role of chief of staff after J.R. Pagliarini left City Hall for a job at the Economic Development Corporation. Prior to his tenure in City Hall, D’Amico was the vice president and general manager for the U.S. Division of Johnson Matthey Emission Control Technologies.
One city councilman defended the contract, saying it was a good idea to retain D’Amico as a consultant.
“Mr. D’Amico, in my opinion, has been a great asset to the city. He helped us to get through this fiscal storm,” said Councilman Michael Correia. “I would support the Mayor’s decision to retain Mr. D’Amico.”
But, Correia added, he would have an issue with administration not following the proper procedures for awarding contracts.
Mayoral candidates speak out
“This is the problem with city government of years, the ‘old boy’ network, where you need to know someone to get something done. These types of insider deals have ruined the Providence Economic Development Partnerships and led to grossly inappropriate tax stabilization gifts and led to city contracts with candy-like pensions,” said GOP candidate Dan Harrop.
“There was no reason not to put this through the normal process: if Mr. D’Amico was so good and Mayor Taveras thought he was so good, then why not just hire him all on the up and up and let the public know before the contract is signed,” Harrop added.
If elected, Harrop promised not only to “avoid such insider deals” and follow all applicable ordinances but also to go out of his way to make sure the public has an opportunity to fully review and comment on any special contracts.
Two other mayoral candidates, both Democrats, stopped short of condemning D’Amico’s contract, but said that they are committed to ethics and transparency in city government.
“While I don’t feel I have enough facts about the situation to make an informed opinion, ethics and transparency are a priority for me,” said Jorge Elorza. “I was the first and only candidate to take a comprehensive ethics pledge, and if elected, my personal commitment will be to ensure a fair and responsive government that works for all residents.”
“I respect Mayor Taveras and his work at City Hall,” added Lorne Adrain. “I have yet to hear from him or the City Council about the process that led to this contract and until I do, I’ll reserve final judgment about this specific matter. However, the perception and sometimes reality that political insiders receive preferential treatment in Providence is incredibly harmful to our city and has to change. I’ve pledged as Mayor to build an open government based on integrity and transparency accountable to the people of Providence.
A third candidate, Brett Smiley, declined comment, and City Council President Michael Solomon, also a candidate in the race, did not respond to a question for comment.
Related Slideshow: Taveras’ Staff Revolving Door
Role: Chief of Staff; Senior Executive Advisor
Left: December 18, 2012
Pagliarini served as Taveras' Chief of Staff before transitioning to Senior Executive Advisor. He left the Mayor's staff to accept a position at the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation (EDC).
Role: Communications Director
Left: December 17, 2012
Just before Pagliarini's departure, Michael Raia resigned as Taveras' Director of Communications. Raia left to assume the position of director of media relations and marketing for WGBH, the Boston-based public broadcasting station.
Role: Deputy Chief of Staff
Left: November 30, 2013
Lynch tendered her resignation in October 2013, after she served as spokeswoman for Taveras' transition team during the interim between his election and inauguration. Lynch began her work with Taveras during his mayoral campaign. Previous to her recent work in city politics, Lynch was a managing director at the lobbying and PR firm Advocacy Solutions.
Role: Communications Director
Left: September 10, 2011
Melissa Withers was one of Taveras' earliest appointments, as communications director in December 2010. A former director of communications for the RI Economic Development Corporation, Withers resigned only nine months into her tenure.
Role: Deputy City Solicitor, Director of Policy and Municipal Affairs, Director of Government Relations and Senior Counsel to the Mayor
Left: January, 2014
Jerzyk resigned his position along with colleague Arianne Lynch in October of 2013, staying on at City Hall until the year's end. Jerzyk was a key staff member during Taveras' successful mayoral run, and was soon appointed as part of the mayoral staff. Jerzyk is currently consulting for The Hamilton Group, which is consulting with mayoral candidate Michael Solomon.
Editor's Note: Matt Jerzyk used to write GoLocalProv's Side of the Rhode: Who’s Hot and Who’s Not in Rhode Island Politics column.
Role: City Council and Statehouse Relations
Left: January 31, 2014
Farrell, a key staffer, was charged with wrangling with the City Council on behalf of the Taveras Administration. Farrell said that he departed to "pursue other opportunities in government relations," though he voiced his "strong support" for Taveras' ongoing gubernatorial effort.
Role: Senior Education Advisor
Left: May 20, 2013
Romans, who once took the helm of the Taveras administration's school policy, assumed a new role in May of last year when she joined the Annenberg Institute for Social Reform at Brown University. Romans joined AISR’s District Redesign & Leadership (DR&L) as a principal associate. She had worked 11 years at Brown as Associate Director of Admission.
Role: Finance Director
Left: November 15, 2013
Soon after resigning his position as Finance Director, for Taveras' gubernatorial campaign, Peter Baptista has signed on with The Hamilton Group, a Democratic consulting organization that he helped to found before joining the Providence mayor's staff. The Hamilton Group has signed on to work with mayoral hopeful Michael Solomon.
Role: Deputy Director of Communications & Media Relations
Left: February 2014
White is the latest in the Taveras adminstration's string of outgoing staffers. Her resignation was confirmed Thursday, February 27th, adding to the long list of political talent who have departed from City Hall since last winter began.
Role: Chief of Staff
Left: February, 2014
Considered the Mayor's alter ego and de facto Deputy Mayor, the loss of D'Amico may mean more than change in the top spot. It could mean a dramatic shift in strategy, a yet unannounced decision to halt the run for Governor and try and stay in City Hall or Taveras could pull a Patrick Lynch and not run for Governor and take his campaign money and go back to private practice.
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