PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Apple Honda owner Irwin Garsten (foreground) discusses the deal Mr. Dunleavy offered at the Town Board work session Thursday morning.
Town Councilman John Dunleavy assured the owner of a Riverhead auto dealership that the town could “circumvent” its bidding process by buying a natural gas-powered car from the dealership at a reduced price.
Apple Honda dealership owner Irwin Garsten came before the board at its Thursday morning work session, frustrated that the apparent deal had been called off by the town attorney’s office.
The deal surprised the other town board members, who said they had no idea the discussions had taken place. Mr. Dunleavy insisted there was “nothing underhanded” about the deal.
“John [Dunleavy] came back to me and said the following: the town would buy the vehicle if I sold it for under $20,000 and they would circumvent whatever rules may be in effect [for] having to put it out for a bid,” Mr. Garsten told the board.
The vehicle, a 2012 natural gas-powered Honda Civic, was donated to the town on a one-year free lease in June 2012, according to the lease agreement between the town and the dealership.
The car was donated as a joint promotion of clean energy between the town and Apple Honda, town officials said at the time.
The Town Board didn’t originally know where to put the car when it was donated, eventually assigning it to the town’s senior center, Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said Thursday.
“It’s not like we need a car,” she said.
There was never an understanding that the town would be obligated to buy the car at the end of the lease, she said.
But that’s not how Mr. Garsten expected the deal would work.
He said he called Mr. Dunleavy after the lease had expired and agreed to offer the car to the town for $19,990 — below market value — because Mr. Dunleavy had assured him the town could buy the car from his dealership without having to solicit for other offers.
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Riverhead senior center aide Daryl Sulzer lets Etta Pietocha, 90, in the town’s new natural gas vehicle after they just filled it up at National Grid property last year.
The town’s bidding policy does require the town to request separate offers for items under $20,000, town, officials said during the meeting
Mr. Dunleavy said he was told the bidding requirements did not apply for those purchases.
When the town attorney’s office found out about the pending vehicle purchase, they checked to see if the town could find it for cheaper, complying with the rules, Mr. Garsten said.
The town’s decision to back out of Mr. Dunleavy’s deal was like a “slap in the face,” he said.
“My integrity is at stake in this thing.” Mr. Garsten said.
While Town Board members agreed the car was worth the money, they weren’t sure they could afford the vehicle. Ms. Giglio said maintenance costs would have to be taken into account since the town’s garage couldn’t service the energy-efficient car.
No line item for the car was included in the town’s budget either, she added.
After Mr. Dunleavy protested town officials taking issue with the deal, Councilman George Gabrielsen admonished him for making agreements without consulting the whole board.
“You don’t speak for ‘we,’ ” he said.
Mr. Dunleavy — who was recently elected to a third term and during the campaign boasted of securing “the free use of a natural gas vehicle” for seniors — said he wanted to make the town more green.
He said the town should start by buying one car and later buying two or three over time.
But Ms. Giglio said the town could not just buy cars whenever it wanted.
“I want solar panels on my house, but I can’t afford it,” she said.
Mr. Dunleavy claimed the other board members were only upset over the deal because “my name is attached to it,” a line that caused some members of the board to roll their eyes.
The Town Board members agreed to talk to the senior services department, which had been using the freely leased car before it was returned earlier this year and see if town workers needed the vehicle purchased.
For a full recap of the Town Board’s work session meeting, see below:
Riverhead Town Work Session