While sorting through the Town of New Paltz invoices for 2013, I came across one from David Clouser & Associates in the amount of $1,085.30 for ‘professional engineering’ services (No. 102696, dated October 2). As I read the description of the services provided on July 22, 2013, the familiar 1962 Beatles song title sprang to mind. The reason is that this particular invoice item read: “Discuss Dennis Doyle’s contact offer with Supervisor Zimet, send an e-mail to ask that the matter be kept confidential at this time.” Why in the world would the town engineer be asking the director of the Ulster County Planning Department to keep a secret?
There are, of course, times when it is perfectly legitimate for a governmental entity to keep certain matters confidential, particularly if they relate to personnel issues; however, the ‘project title’ for this particular invoice was ‘Review and Assistance Water System Design’, so I contacted Supervisor Zimet and asked her to provide me with a copy of the e-mail to Doyle referenced by Clouser in his invoice.
In the e-mail Clouser pointed out that “…the town has looked for ways to provide public water service to its residents as a necessity for future development of the town.” Nothing wrong with that. However, he then went on to inform Doyle that “The DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) has now come to the town with an offer to partner in providing a safe water supply to the entire community, including providing well testing that shows an ample water source that can be developed in the town.” This confused me since the DEP, the New York City agency that manages and conserves the city’s water supply, has been working with the Village of New Paltz for the past year or so to identify an alternate water source for village residents when the Catskill Aqueduct, which carries water from the Ashokan Reservoir to New York City, will close for repairs in 2017. So why was the town meeting with the DEP? Was this a new project? The same project?
I became increasingly perplexed when, a few sentences later, the town engineer made a request of the county planning director, “…Susan and I ask that you keep this opportunity offered by the DEP confidential at least until our strategy is more fully developed and considered by the DEP.” Why in the world would the Town of New Paltz supervisor not want to immediately share the good news of this opportunity with village officials? This is the question I asked of Zimet via e-mail on December 30, 2014. I have yet to receive a reply.
I provided a copy of Clouser’s e-mail to Tom Rocco, the designated ‘go to’ village official taking the lead on the village’s interactions with both the DEP and Clouser, whose engineering firm is also working for the village on the water project. Village trustee Rocco had not been aware of the e-mail and subsequently spoke to both Clouser and DEP representative Dan Michaud about its contents. Mr. Rocco then informed me that he had learned from Mr. Michaud that there never had been any “offer to partner” with the town “in providing a safe water supply.” There had simply been a “willingness” to discuss the matter of a water supply that would help both the town and village. Mr. Michaud had emphasized that any other attribution of motive on the part of the DEP had simply been a mistaken interpretation on the part of Zimet and Clouser and that he did not agree with their interpretation. Rocco further reported that nothing ever had come of the strategies referred to in Clouser’s July 22, 2013 e-mail, and confirmed that the village is indeed the lead agency in dealing with the DEP.
Ulster County Planning Department director Dennis Doyle also confirmed that nothing had ever transpired from the conversation that had taken place between Zimet and Clouser and a DEP representative and that, ‘within a very short time’ after Doyle received Clouser’s e-mailed request, the DEP and the village had agreed to work together on what has now become the village ‘Freshwater Exploration Project’.
Do you promise not to tell?
So, now we all know that there never was a legitimate reason for Zimet and Clouser to ask Dennis Doyle to keep the matter confidential and so much for town and village cooperation and coordination. However, there still remains the little matter of Zimet authorizing a payment of $1,085.30 for this futile exercise in ‘misinterpretation’. How does she justify this payment to the taxpayers?
A larger question for both the town and village governments has to do with the process and procedures in place for engaging outside consultants to provide engineering services. New York State Municipal Law §103 clearly states “… all contracts for public work involving an expenditure of more than twenty thousand dollars … shall be awarded by the appropriate officer… of a political subdivision, to the lowest responsible bidder furnishing the required security after advertisement for sealed bids in the manner provided by this section.”
A question specific to our community is, how many other no-bid engineering projects authorized by the town and village governments over the past two years, for which David Clouser & Associates billed and received $1,033,487.78, have also come to nothing?
Excuse me, I have to get back to those invoices.