Even though the City of Providence launched an online Providence City Open Meetings Portal in 2013 to provide easy access to the City’s public meetings, a former City Council President ordered the City Clerk in January of 2016 to execute a contract giving GoLocalProv $3,000 a month to publish city meeting notices.
Current City Council President David Salvatore uncovered the strange arrangement as part of an audit of past city contracts. Salvatore is now calling on GoLocalProv to return approximately $67,500 in payments made to the digital news website, as the contract was apparently structured to circumvent the City’s competitive bidding process. Salvatore also pointed to an unusual provision of the deal that seems to suggest GoLocalProv would provide former City Council President Luis Aponte with “relevant information” and “consult” with him regularly.
“On its face, this contract seems deliberately crafted to avoid the City’s competitive bidding process. The contract goes beyond any traditional media buy, requiring the media outlet to keep the City in the loop about relevant information,” said Salvatore. “When you have the City paying for a service it doesn’t need, the deal appears to be set up to skirt city purchasing requirements, and the owner of the company is a former City Councilman who should know the rules, it raises serious questions as to whether this was a blatant attempt to defraud the City.”
Salvatore added, “For that reason, I am calling on GoLocalProv to return the funds it received from the City and make a full accounting of what kind of ‘relevant information’ it was providing to former Council President Aponte. Was he getting tipped off to stories related to Providence City Hall? Was there an understanding he would receive positive coverage in exchange for this contract? GoLocalProv needs to explain why it agreed to some sort of consultation deal as a part of what should have been a simple advertising contract.”
Under the City’s Code of Ordinances, “all contracts for purchase of materials, supplies, services, equipment and property on behalf of the city, the price of consideration of which shall exceed five hundred dollars ($500.00) but amount to less than five thousand ($5,000.00) shall be made by the director of public property on the basis of three (3) or more informal competitive bids.” (Sec. 21-27) Salvatore noted that same section goes on to say any contracts “exceeding more than five thousand dollars ($5,000.00) shall be made by the boards of contract and supply on the basis of sealed bids.”
Salvatore said the contract contained traditional “Scope of Service” language but also included this unusual language:
“In order to effectively advocate the COMPANY’S interests, you have an affirmative obligation to cooperate with GoLocalProv during the course of this engagement.”
“In return, GoLocalProv agrees to keep COMPANY (the city) informed of relevant information and to consult with COMPANY regularly. Copies of significant correspondence, media coverage and relevant documents will be sent to COMPANY.”
[From a press release]