Library bidding process tense

TREMONT — Selectmen decided to put revised plans for the Bass Harbor Public Library addition back out to bid on Monday following a contentious debate with a representative of the previous sole bidder, Mike Mansolilli, who is also a selectman.

Mansolilli is the owner of MDI Property Maintenance and Management and was the only contractor to bid on the original plan for an addition to the library. Because of his position on the select board, Mansolilli has had to recuse himself from any decisions made by the board on the matter.

At the beginning of the Monday meeting, fellow selectmen signed an agreement to allow board member Howard ‘Howdy’ Goodwin to weigh in on the project without familial bias.

Goodwin and Mansolilli are cousins. State law says any relation less than six degrees must undergo review and approval by fellow board members to ensure the municipal official can agree to decide on an issue without exhibiting bias (see related story, page 1).

“We took him at his word,” said Selectman Chairman Kevin Buck in a conversation with the Islander.

In previous meetings regarding the library project, Goodwin had recused himself from the board’s conversation along with Mansolilli.

Goodwin was the one opposing vote to sending the revised library plans back out to bid at Monday’s meeting. Selectmen Jamie Thurlow, McKenzie Jewett and Buck all voted in favor of the motion.

Once a motion had been made to put the project back out to bid, Jeff Crafts, an engineer working with Mansolilli on the project, spoke up.

“I think you should allow some discussion before you move right into this,” he told the board. “I don’t appreciate a rushed process.”

Buck said there needed to be a second on the motion before there could be discussion on the matter. After a second was made by Buck, he asked if anyone wished to speak.

Of at least 20 people in the room, no one offered comments or questions.

“We’re all ears,” Buck said to the crowd.

“I believe you have an alternative motion that I think is worthy of discussion as well,” said Crafts to Buck.

Crafts had submitted a suggested motion for the select board on the issue, directing the library trustees to continue negotiating with MDI Property Maintenance. The suggested motion was included in the meeting materials. Crafts asked Buck to read the suggested motion aloud at the meeting, and Buck refused.

Mansolilli then said his bid was still on the table.

“You’re not recognized right now,” Buck said to Mansolilli.

Crafts then asked Buck if he was being prejudicial towards Mansolilli.

“Did you not say to me, if I just backed out it would make this process easier?” Mansolilli asked Buck.

Buck said he had had a conversation with Mansolilli outside of a formal meeting regarding the library bidding process.

“My understanding was it was a conflict of interest,” Buck told the Islander, referring to a selectman bidding for a town project.

Mansolilli says he assured Buck he had consulted with the Maine Municipal Association and it was not a conflict.

“I took him at his word at that point,” said Buck. “I don’t believe he’s ever bid on another municipal project.”

At the Aug. 6 meeting, the library board of trustees asked selectmen to allow the original building addition plans to be returned to the architect for revision. Members of the board of trustees and the architect had met with Crafts and Mansolilli to discuss ways the original bid could be reduced to meet the project budget.

“They presented lots of options to adjust plans,” said Pete Madeira, chairman of the library board of trustees said this week. “But, a lot of what they suggested was not consistent with our program desires.”

At the time of the original bid, the library had about $331,000 allocated for the project from the $450,000 raised in their capital campaign, according to Madeira. Funds from the campaign are also going towards paying a clerk of the works, an architect and furnishings for the addition, Madeira said.

Mansolilli’s original bid through MDI Property Maintenance and Management was $392,000. After meeting with representatives from the library, Crafts and Mansolilli accepted alternatives to the project and reduced their bid by $33,000. This meant the bid was still more than $25,000 over the library’s budget.

“When I came to that board last night I came with assumptions that there were going to be negotiations,” Mansolilli said Tuesday. “I think my right to a fair process has been violated. I’ve never been to a meeting and not seen a bidder be able to speak.”

When Mansolilli recuses himself from the Selectmen’s meeting table, he becomes a member of the public, according to Town Manager Chris Saunders.

Crafts was at the meeting to represent Mansolilli and was able to speak, but selectmen are not obligated to allow members of the public to speak outside a public hearing, according to Saunders.

“In that situation, there was no obligation for comments from the public,” Saunders said Wednesday.

“As far as I know, we’ve treated Mike Mansolilli and Jeff Crafts fairly,” said Madeira. “The bottom line is we’re trying to improve the library… We want to move this thing forward and we have a plan.”

Mansolilli said Tuesday he plans to bid on the project again.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this post contained an error. Selectman Howard ‘Howdy’ Goodwin has recused himself at one previous meeting citing family bias towards the sole bidder for the project.

Sarah Hinckley

Sarah Hinckley

Former Islander reporter Sarah Hinckley covered the towns of Southwest Harbor, Tremont and neighboring islands.

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