Big stink on Riverhead Town Board over mold cleanup contract

05/27/2010 12:00 AM |

Who to believe?

Two Town Board members say it has the appearance of a no-bid contract awarded to a relative of a friend of the supervisor, and that the supervisor threatened one of the board members politically if she didn’t go along with it.

The supervisor says it was an emergency measure designed to protect the health of town employees and the public from a growing mold problem, and that it saved the town $20,000. Supervisor Sean Walter also says the contract was awarded before he knew of the company’s family connection to someone in his office in Town Hall.

The situation stems from a Town Board vote last Tuesday to award a $22,293 mold and flood damage remediation contract to Servpro of Northeast Queens. Servpro is a nationwide company with many local franchises.

The resolution, which board members Jodi Giglio and George Gabrielsen abstained from voting on, passed with three votes on the all-Republican Town Board. The resolution declared a public emergency because of the flooding at Town Hall, a declaration that allowed the town to award the contract without first seeking bids, as would normally be required.

Servpro of Northeast Queens is owned by Joseph Sclafani, brother of Charles Sclafani, a member of the town Zoning Board of Appeals and the town Conservative Party committee, which Supervisor Sean Walter used to head.

Charles Sclafani’s wife, Carol, is Mr. Walter’s secretary at Town Hall and was also treasurer of his fundraising committee for the 2009 elections.

Ms. Giglio charged the supervisor warned her before last Tuesday’s public Town Board vote not to make a scene about the contract, which she didn’t. He later blamed her for leaking the story to Riverhead-based WRIV radio after a brief news item about the vote was aired on the station Thursday, she said.

Ms. Giglio said deputy town attorney Annmarie Prudenti had recommended to town officials in an April 16 e-mail that the Town Hall job and a similar mold remediation project at the Jamesport Community Center be competitively bid.

Mr. Walter had already signed the contract for the Town Hall work six days before the Town Board voted on it May 12. The supervisor said he could do so because three board members had signed the purchase order and those signatures enabled the company to immediately begin the work, which was completed Friday.

Ms. Giglio on Thursday said the supervisor “has threatened me through George [Gabrielsen] at least 10 times and he threatened me directly today. He said I’m not allowed in the supervisor’s office, and he told George that I’m cut off from all information.”

“He said your political career is over,” Mr. Gabrielsen reminded her.

“Can you imagine?” Mr. Gabrielsen added. “She’s a council member and she’s forbidden in certain parts of Town Hall? What are we missing here?”

Mr. Gabrielsen said the supervisor had told him “to reign her in” and would frequently tell him to tell Ms. Giglio what to do, rather than telling her himself.

Mr. Walter declined to return the volley when interviewed Friday.

“What was Ronald Reagan’s 11th commandment?” he asked. “Never attack fellow Republicans. I’m not going to attack George or Jodi or say anything negative. It’s a completely inappropriate conversation … I’m not threatening her or attacking her, and I’m not going to say anything negative about her. She’s a council person, and as she needs information from the supervisor’s office, I’ll gladly provide her with it. The same goes for George Gabrielsen.

“I understand that people may think this looks bad, but we saved $20,000 by picking this company in an emergency situation, and the process was legal,” Mr. Walter said. “The town attorney [Dawn Thomas] laid out the process and said this is how you do it, and we followed the process.”


Ms. Giglio said that, without a formal bidding process, there is no way of knowing if the lowest price was obtained. She said her main interest was in making sure the public was getting the lowest price, and she questioned why an emergency bid would take place in mid-May, more than six weeks after the flooding took place.

The quote from Servpro of Northeast Queens came in at $22,293 for the Town Hall job, while the next lowest price, from Servpro of Port Jefferson, was $42,557, town officials said.

Servpro of Northeast Queens also submitted an estimate for the Jamesport job, but it did not offer the lowest price on that project. The town was prepared to award that contract on an emergency basis to another company, Duraclean, based in Middle Island, Mr. Walter said.

“It’s pure politics,” Charles Sclafani said of the allegations that the supervisor was rewarding an ally’s relative with the public’s money. “The reality is, I didn’t even know my brother had this job until he called me. Servpro is a national franchise and he has special rules and regulations he has to go through to get jobs.”

Charles Sclafani said he is a member of the Conservative committee but not of its executive board.

Ms. Giglio made a bid last year to run for town supervisor but lost the Republican nomination to Mr. Walter. She opted against running a GOP primary in favor of a nomination to run for Town Board. She and Mr. Gabrielsen worked in tandem during much of the campaign.

Mr. Gabrielsen said last week that Dave Cullen, an aide to Mr. Walter who is handling flood damage issues in town buildings, asked him and Ms. Giglio to sign a purchase order for the Servpro emergency contract, but they declined, asking for more information.

Mr. Gabrielsen said they never received any more information and later learned that Mr. Cullen had gotten signatures from Councilmen Jim Wooten and John Dunleavy. The town could then move forward with the emergency contract since a majority of the board had approved it.

On Tuesday, Mr. Gabrielsen said he had asked Mr. Cullen for his resignation over Mr. Cullen’s actions, which the councilman termed “procedural impropriety,” but that Mr. Cullen had refused.

The supervisor told the News-Review he didn’t know of his secretary’s connection to Servpro of Northeast Queens until after the contract had been awarded, though he did know her brother-in-law owned a Servpro, because she had mentioned it after the March flood and asked if her brother could put in a bid. He just didn’t know it was Servpro of Northeast Queens that her brother-in-law owned, the supervisor said.

Mr. Cullen said Monday that the companies from which the town sought proposals had been selected by the town’s engineering department, which was familiar with their work, although he also said Servpro of Northeast Queens had never done work with the town. He also said that while a formal bidding process hadn’t taken place, the companies were required to submit detailed proposals that included the same amount of information as a formal bid would have provided.

The supervisor said that in mid-April “we realized we had a mold problem.”

He said Mr. Cullen had been monitoring the problem and that Mr. Cullen had called H2M, an engineering company with which the town has a contract, to sample the air in Town Hall, the building department, police department and Jamesport Community Center, which has been closed since April. At the same time, Mr. Cullen had sought price estimates from mold remediation companies, assuming H2M’s study would determine there was a mold problem in Town Hall, the building department and the Jamesport Community Center. The town would then have had price estimates ready when H2M’s study was completed. The town would also have had the H2M study available to determine what needed to be done. Subsequently, there was a fire in the building department office and it is now unoccupied.

H2M determined May 5 that there was a mold problem in Town Hall and the Jamesport Community Center, according to a letter the engineering firm sent to the town.

Mr. Walter said he originally planned to award emergency contracts for both the Town Hall and Jamesport Community Center cleanups at the May 18 Town Board meeting.

The board didn’t do an emergency declaration for the Jamesport building because Ms. Giglio and Mr. Gabrielsen “made such a fuss about it,” Mr. Walter said. The board on Monday held a special meeting to vote on publishing a notice to bidders for the Jamesport job, a resolution that passed 3-0 with Councilmen John Dunleavy and James Wooten absent.

Mr. Walter said that had an emergency declaration been made for the Jamesport building, the work would have begun already. Now, he said, the bids aren’t scheduled to be opened until June 1.

The supervisor said the town is under pressure to get the Jamesport Community Center open by July 1, when the town recreation department’s summer programs, including a popular day camp, are scheduled to start.

Asked if the situation could have been defused simply by stating at the time that Servpro of Northeast Queens is owned by Mr. Sclafani’s brother, the supervisor said that neither he nor Carol and Charles Sclafani stand to realize any monetary gain from the contract, so he questioned why a disclosure would have been needed.

“Are we saying that anybody who’s even related to any other town employee can never do business with the Town of Riverhead?” Mr. Walter asked. “That’s kind of insane.”

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