Aldermen-at-Large Joseph Kelley Levasseur stated on his Facebook page that Ameresco, a firm that bid on the City of Manchester’s LED street lighting contract, believes that its competitors were tipped off about their bid during the Request for Proposal (RFP) process. The Queen City used the RFP process rather than a sealed bid system in which the bid would automatically go to the lowest bidder that met the contract’s specifications.
Ameresco’s bid was approximately $1 million lower than the initial bid put in by Philips, a company favored by Mayor Ted Gatsas. According to the post on Levasseur’s Facebook page, “Coincidently after the low bid from Ameresco, Gatsas favorite dropped their bid by one million to almost match Ameresco.”
Levasseur’s post went on to say, “City procurement code does not allow the mayor or anyone associated with the bidding process to divulge to any other bidder what any other bidder bid. Ameresco alleges its competitors were tipped off and were then allowed to come in with new lower bids.”
Alderman Levasseur believes that the RFP process was “corrupted” by Gatsas, who manipulated the bidding to favor Philips so that it would be awarded the contract. Levasseur alleges that Gatsas’ motivation was “to get someone close to him the LED lighting contract.”
Some of Gatsas’ behavior during the street lighting bidding process was extreme, even for him. He has been steadfast in his opposition to the intention of many of the aldermen to award the new LED street lighting contract to Siemens rather than Philips. Gatsas went so far as to throw the representatives of Siemens out of his office for allegedly using a metaphor he found offensive, if he is to be believed.
During the March 3 meeting of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BOMA) in which the LED street lighting contract was voted on, the mayor engaged in a heated exchange with Levasseur’s fellow Alderman-at-Large, Daniel O’Neil, who favors awarding the $4.5 million contract to Siemens. The longest-serving member of the Board, O’Neil was elected chairman of BOMA by a vote of his fellow alderman and serves as acting-mayor in Gatsas’ absence.
The bad blood between O’Neil and Gatsas was not just limited to their conflict over the awarding of the LED street lighting contract, but over the mayor’s failure to inform the BOMA Chair that he was out of town, vacationing in Aruba. There is a suspicion that Gatsas, who insisted over O’Neil’s objections that he is not required by the City Charter to inform the BOMA Chair of his absence, may have been trying to keep O’Neil from functioning as acting mayor in his absence.
Recounting how an angry Gatsas had kicked the representatives from Siemens out of a meeting in which bids were under review, O’Neil claimed, “I was embarrassed” by the mayor’s behavior.
Gatsas said he kicked the Siemens reps out of the meeting as he was offended by a metaphor they used to explain their price for LED lighting “smart controls”, which was higher than that of other vendors. Explaining that Siemens’ smart controls were of higher quality than those of the other vendors, a Siemens rep used the purchase of a child’s bike helmet as a metaphor for why someone would be willing to pay a higher price for a better quality product.
Gatsas told O’Neil, “When somebody wanting to do business with the city of Manchester compares a child’s head to smart controls, that’s wrong, that’s absolutely wrong.”
That was the reason the Siemens reps “got thrown out of a meeting,” the Mayor explained.
It was a rather remarkable explanation and one that strains the credulity of more than one observer, even accounting for Gatsas’ fabled bad temper. This is a man who kicked members of the New Hampshire advisory committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission out of a meeting of the City’s School Board Committee, which he chairs. In that incident, Gatsas was enraged when the advisory committee members charged that minority and ESL students were being discriminated against due to a lack of minority teachers in Manchester’s schools.
Since that incident, the Civil Rights Commission has increased its scrutiny of Manchester’s school system. Hostility, particularly hostility by elected officials, is used as bellwether to guauge the climate of racism in a community, and Mayor Gatsas wasn’t doing himself or the City of Manchester any favors by being aggressive towards the civil rights committe members. Manchester subsequently was sued by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, a sitation that likely could have been avoided had the mayor not been so hot headed and had worked with the civil rights activists to address their grievances.
If Alderman Joseph Kelly Levasseur is right and there is some vested interest behind the mayor’s pushing for the Phillips bid on the street lighting contract, there might have been a different motivation for his booting out the Siemens reps other than mentioning a child’s bike helmet. Time will tell how Ameresco’s complaint will play out in the future.
Like Mayor Gatsas’ civil rights snafu, his behavior may lead to litigation against the city. It may even trigger an investigation into possible bid rigging.