On Wednesday this week Doug and Enzo announced a deal to buy four surveillance cameras, and related services, at a cost of $30,702.74. The cameras are to be placed in strategic locations around Warren to help prosecute or prevent illegal dumping. This is the culmination of a two year running request from Councilwoman Cheryl Saffold, whose 6th ward has been particularly hard hit by the dumping of tires, contractor refuse, furniture, and other waste in certain locations.
The administration’s decision to finally make this purchase two years after the CDBG dollars were originally allocated has to make you wonder if politics might have entered into the decision.
Doug and Enzo’s decision to select VEC Inc. of Girard as the vendor, a company represented in the discussions by 4th Ward City Council candidate Jimmy Bluedorn (D), two weeks before his name is to appear on primary ballots, is brazen cronyism at its worst. Mr. Bluedorn is Doug and Enzo’s hand-picked candidate, and he was given an open floor at council caucus ten days before the election, where he explained the contract and also added that he would personally donate a camera to the city for one month. This donation was re-framed in a social media post by Mr. Bluedorn that same day as being “for the residents of the 4th Ward”, the same post in which he asked those residents for their vote.
Members of the council caucus, heard the announcement from Warren Safety Service Director Enzo Cantalamessa. I spoke to seven people who were in the room; three said that Enzo said no other vendors were considered; four said they could not recall one way or the other.
Either way, the members of council in attendence asked no questions about the contract; perhaps they were happy enough to finally get the cameras after a two year struggle.
As bad as the politics of this deal smells, the possibility that this was a “no bid” contract issue is more troubling. This has become so typical of the way Doug and Enzo roll when it comes to spending the city’s money. Lawyer Enzo may have found some legal justification which allowed them to spend over $30,000 of taxpayer money without getting competing bids.
But being legal doesn’t make it right.
There is at least one Warren company that sells these same products and services; they have employees here, who pay taxes in Warren, and they were not even given the opportunity to bid for the business. That is just wrong.
And how do we know that we got the best price on these products and services? According to VEC’s invoice, they are charging the city $4685 per camera. A quick Google search discovered the same camera model being offered at $2879, or 38.5% less than what the city is paying. It is possible that this is not an exact apples to apples comparison (there are some bolts and brackets involved), but the city has not offered competitive prices for public viewing.
I received no response to an email sent to Enzo and his administrative assistant early today, asking if there had been competing bids.
No bid contracts have become a favorite tool for Doug and Enzo; they’ve used them to select management for Packard Music Hall and WRAP, for example. Unfortunately, this appears to be another example of the lack of effort being made by them to spend taxpayer money wisely.
Several city employees have told me recently that since Lisa Mazzocci, who formerly monitored purchasing, retired recently, they are rarely required to get multiple prices before making a purchase, and there is little oversight from City Hall. “I could buy a helicopter and nobody in City Hall would notice,” said one department head.