Treasurer questions design work payments
By Gordon Dritschilo
Staff Writer | July 19,2013
Recreation Superintendent EJay Bishop said Thursday that he did the right thing the wrong way when he acted on his own authority to pay an architect roughly $50,000 over the course of a year for work at the Giorgetti rink.
“I should have brought the issue to the board,” he said. “I left 12 elected officials in the dark and that was my oversight. They should have been involved from the start. ... I’ve apologized to the board. I know I’ve disappointed them. I’ve disappointed myself, in hindsight.”
The payments to Bear Mountain Design, a one-person shop run by Harold Mayhew of Barnard, were spotted by Treasurer Wendy Wilton during a review of the city audit. Wilton questioned Bishop about them via email, and several city aldermen also raised the issue at a committee meeting Wednesday — agreeing to discuss it further, likely at the next full board meeting.
None of the individual payments exceeded $2,900, leaving them under the threshold at which a purchase must be sent out to bid, but Wilton questioned the nature of the arrangement and noted that if there was a contract with Bear Mountain, it had not been brought to the Board of Aldermen for approval as required by the city charter.
Wilton also asked why Bishop paid the firm from the recreation activities fund, rather than from a budget line covering professional services.
Mayhew, reached Wednesday, said he was working with Bishop to tackle deferred maintenance and design minor upgrades to Giorgetti.
“I’ve done a lot of hockey arenas and I’m local,” he said. “I spent the first several months trying to find a cost-effective way of taking care of the basic issues without getting into the more elaborate schemes that went to a vote and failed.”
Mayhew said he undertook a number of small-scale tasks, each with its own contract, contributing toward a larger plan to repair and upgrade the rink.
“Different customers have different needs,” he said when asked if it was normal for him to work in such a piecemeal fashion. “Every business owner would love to have a great big contract for everything. ... This was what I was offered. I chose to do it.”
Bishop said he had floated the notion of fixing up Giorgetti to the mayor and several board members and said he sensed support for the concept but little enthusiasm. He said, given the sentiment that the city needed to take better care of what it had, that it was important to keep on top of the facility.
“I didn’t exactly know, because I’m not an expert, what were all the basic things we need to do to get to that level,” he said. “I needed an expert.”
=The recreation activities fund receives money from sponsorships, fundraising and other revenue generated within the department. It is earmarked for “continued improvements at the Giorgetti facility.” Since the money was essentially at his disposal and the use was appropriate, Bishop said, he felt he was on solid ground.
“In my perception, back then, I had full control of the situation,” he said. “I had an expert and I had flexibility to maneuver through the process.”
Bishop said he had no prior connection to Mayhew and that the architect was the most qualified of several names he received from Efficiency Vermont. He said Mayhew’s experience with hockey rinks was especially appealing.
Bishop also argued that the manner in which he contracted work with Mayhew gave him greater control and flexibility, making it easier to change direction.
Bishop said he expects to present a proposal based on Mayhew’s work to the Aldermen in the near future.
The issue came up peripherally at the Finance Committee meeting Wednesday, which was warned to discuss the definitions of various funds — like the recreation activities fund — in Bishop’s department.
Chairman Christopher Siliksi said he wanted to keep the meeting focused on that subject, prompting Alderman Gary Donahue, who brought it up initially, to walk out in anger. Donahue returned later and apologized.
Most of the other aldermen present at least mentioned the issue, agreeing that if it was not discussed that night it needed to be, in the words of Alderman William Notte, “in the very near future.”
“I’ll be damned if I’m going to take a lax attitude on it,” Notte said. “It’s something that needs to be discussed in detail.”