August 23, 2010

Road contract decisions questioned, defended

CHELSEA -- Carole Swan says claims she steers municipal road contracts to her husband's firm are nothing but a "vendetta."

The accusations of preferential treatment peaked after a culvert project on Windsor Road last year sparked environmental sanctions from the state.

The project, a $53,000 culvert replacement to alleviate road flooding, was done by Marshall Swan Construction of Chelsea.

Marshall Swan is Carole Swan's husband. Carole Swan is an 18-year member of the Board of Selectmen and its current chairman.

The project was awarded to Marshall Swan without a competitive bidding process because the town deemed the job an emergency.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection may seek penalties from the town because the work caused a protected wetland to be filled and was done without a state permit. The town claims faulty maps failed to indicate the presence of the wetland.

With the Windsor Road project still causing a potential liability to the town, critics of Chelsea's road contracting have gotten louder.

More work than most

In recent years, town records show Marshall Swan Construction frequently performed much of the town's road and construction projects.

For example, copies of contractors' bills submitted for road work from the spring of 2006 to the fall of 2007 show that, out of the $360,711 spent, Swan Construction got $226,778 -- or 60 percent of the outlays. Ferraiolo Corporation got $112,122 during that time; and Ben Pushard, $54,761.

But Carole Swan vigorously denies exerting influence over fellow selectmen or town personnel in order to secure contracts for her husband's company.

"There are people looking for something not there," she said in an interview with the Kennebec Journal.

Swan said most of Chelsea's town managers have had no experience writing bid specifications, so it was easier to give her husband the jobs and keep the amounts under $10,000.

Chelsea's contracting rules say officials must seek bids for any contract that exceeds $10,000. Contracts for less expensive work or those projects deemed an emergency may be awarded by the road commissioner or Board of Selectmen.

"It's been easier over the years to hire my husband," Swan said. "That doesn't reflect on me."

Swan's attorney, P.J. Perrino Jr., said Swan never votes if her husband submits a bid or influences the bidding process in her husband's favor during open meetings.

If a job is declared an emergency, it's the road commissioner -- not Swan -- who makes that determination, he said.

He said questions about bidding on Chelsea's road work amount to a "witch hunt."

Noncompetitive bidding

Other observers -- including Chelsea contractors and former town officials -- say the Windsor Road project is only the latest example of contracts being awarded outside a competitive bidding process to benefit Marshall Swan Construction.

"Everything's going to Swan," said Mark Warren, vice president of Harold Warren Construction of Chelsea, who has often challenged the town's contracting process.

Critics with knowledge of Chelsea's road bidding say the bidding ordinance is subverted when the town declares projects an emergency or when contractors send the town invoices several times for a single project with each invoice totaling just less than $10,000.

Town ordinance states: "An emergency is defined as it would affect life, property and liability if the situation is not taken care of before limitations of the bidding process could be made."

At least two former town officials -- former Selectman Rick Danforth and former Selectman Sharon Morang -- question whether the Windsor Road project was an emergency.

On June 17, Danforth told Town Meeting attendees that town officials had discussed what to do about that area for years.

(Continued on page 2)

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Carole Swan


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