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May 21, 2013

Salem town manager accused of illegally awarding contract

SALEM — Accusations that Town Manager Keith Hickey violated town bidding procedures prompted him to speak out at a selectmen’s meeting last night.

Hickey defended his decision to award a Town Hall renovation contract without advertising for bids and hiring a firm that employed town Finance Director Jane Savastano’s husband as a subcontractor.

Hickey raised the issue in response to comments made in a newspaper column Thursday that indicated the $34,825 contract was awarded illegally.

“All I have is my integrity,” Hickey told selectmen. “I’m not going to screw it up with a $40,000 contract.”

Selectmen discussed the issue for much of their two-hour meeting. They also decided on how an assistant town manager will be hired.

Hickey said he was forced to quickly choose two bidders in December before the new fiscal year began Jan. 1 so he could use leftover money in the town budget. No money for the project had been appropriated for this year, he said.

“I just didn’t have time,” Hickey said.

He said town policy allows him to waive the bid process in an emergency situation.

The bottom floor of Town Hall was being renovated to provide space for social service agencies in an area formerly occupied by the state Division of Motor Vehicles, an office that relocated to Main Street. The agencies were moving out of the former Mary Foss School, a dilapidated building shuttered by the town.

Hickey said he was justified in awarding the contract to RAM Construction over L&B Construction Management, which are both local companies. RAM’s bid was better and about $5,000 less than L&B’s, he said.

Hickey said he didn’t object when RAM owner Rick Munroe asked if he could use Atlantic Power & Design as a subcontractor even though the company is owned by the finance director’s husband, Mark Savastano.

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