Howell, Clark At Loggerheads Over Housing Consultant Contract

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Board of Selectmen News

Gavel.

HARWICH — Selectmen on Monday night issued a contract to Community Development Corporation to provide housing coordinator services to the affordable housing trust for a second year. But there was debate over who should issue the contract, the town's affordable housing trust or selectmen.

Selectman Donald Howell, who also serves on the trust, declared it should be the selectmen’s decision, not the trust’s, to issue the second-year agreement with CDC, pointing out the trust was not a party to the initial agreement or even an entity when the agreement was signed by selectmen.

Howell said it had been six weeks since the expiration of the first contract and CDC has continued to provide services to the trust. That shouldn’t have happened, he said, and the agency needs to be paid.

Town Administrator Christopher Clark said he raised the issue while at a state procurement seminar put on by the Attorney General’s procurement unit and was told the trust can issue the contract. Clark also pointed out he has a legal opinion from town counsel John Giorgio which states the trust “has express authority to enter into contracts to fulfill its purposes.”

Howell said he spent 20 minutes speaking to town counsel before attending the trust meeting and took the position that the contract should be between the town and the CDC. Howell said the trust did not issue the RFP relating to the services; that was also done through the board of selectmen.

Speaking to the legal opinion, Howell said, “You only get a verbal opinion from a lawyer based on the verbal facts you’re conveying, and if you’re leaving anything out it can radically change the outcome.”

Giorgio’s opinion cited Clark as chief procurement officer for the town who solicited proposals for housing coordinator services, and indicated the services would be for two years.

“The first year of the contract is coming to a close and you plan on recommending the AHT (now that the trust is operational) that a one-year contract for the second year be awarded by the AHT. You have also informed me that you have been appointed as chair to the AHT,” Giorgio wrote.

“I do not see any issue from a procurement standpoint because, based on what you have told me, a two-year contract was properly procured. That fact that the contract for the first year was executed by the board of selectmen does not, in my opinion, preclude the AHT, which was subsequently established, from entering into a contract for the second year because the second year is within the scope of the RFP as originally issued. In this regard, I would note that pursuant ti G. L. c. 44, Section 55, (c) (4) an affordable housing trust has express authority to enter into a contract to fulfill its purpose.”

In an email a few days after Giorgio issued his opinion, he questioned comments made by Howell in the trust meeting about their 20-minute discussion. “I am not sure why Don is stating that. I did not change my opinion,” Giorgio wrote.

“It is as much what wasn’t asked as what was asked,” Howell said at Monday night's board meeting when selectmen approved the contract. “At no point did I reference that Mr. Giorgio changed his mind. He was never asked whether or not the board of selectmen could issue the contract.”

Howell said he got the trust to vote that the selectmen should exercise the contract.

There were issues raised about Clark serving as town administrator and the chair of the trust. Trust member Judith Underwood took issue with Clark as chair of the trust seeking the opinion from legal counsel, suggesting the legal opinion should have been sought by the town administrator for the board of selectmen and not by the AHT chair.

“Let’s keep it clean and get these people paid,” Underwood said.

Howell offered a motion to send the contract to selectmen with a recommendation by the trust to execute the contract. The board voted 4-1 to do so.

“The trust needs to act as an independent entity. I do not see it the same as Don does,” said Clark, who cast the dissenting vote.