The handshake deal between Mayor James Sottile and a contractor accused of stealing copper pipes during a demolition job at the old King’s Inn may have violated a city policy intended to prevent favoritism and corruption.
The contractor, Joseph McGowan, was charged with grand larceny and possession of stolen property for the theft which, police say, occurred in early August while he and a work crew were clearing fixtures from the vacant former welfare motel on Broadway. The motel is scheduled to be demolished by a U.S Army Reserve engineering unit later this month. City officials say that while removing the pipes, McGowan released toxic asbestos into the air. That boosted the price tag for asbestos abatement, which was completed earlier this month, by $143,000 and led to a lawsuit against the city by a worker who claims that he was exposed to the toxin when he was ordered by McGowan to cut the pipe.
Mayor James Sottile, who declined to comment for this article citing pending legal action, said last week that he had made a verbal agreement with McGowan to clear out fixtures from the motel. In exchange, Sottile offered the contractor $4,000 and salvage rights to the bed frames, refrigerators and other furnishings. Sottile said he specifically warned McGowan not to take the copper pipes. The deal was concluded without a contract or other written documentation outlining the scope of the work or other details.
It also appears that the deal was in violation of the city’s procurement policy, which governs dealings with outside contractors and vendors. The policy, adopted in 1992 and reviewed annually by the Common Council, sets forth specific guidelines for awarding contracts with a value below $20,000. Contracts above that threshold must, by state law, be awarded through a competitive bidding process.
For contracts valued between $3,000 and $4,999, the policy calls for the city to make a “good faith effort” to obtain and document written or faxed price quotes from at least two potential vendors. There is no evidence that Sottile contacted anyone, except McGowan, when seeking a contractor for the King’s Inn job. In fact, according to Kingston City Purchasing Agent Brian Woltman, he has not seen documentation of any kind regarding the King’s Inn deal. Woltman, who oversees purchasing commodities for the city, said that he frequently helps out with small public works contracts like the King’s Inn job. Other times, Woltman said, the contracts go through the City Engineer’s Office.