By Douglas Moser
---- — METHUEN — Mayoral challenger Jennifer Kannan says Mayor Stephen Zanni is trying to steal credit for changing the high school contractor that actually belongs with the previous administration of William Manzi and the committee overseeing the project.
Zanni said the accusations of taking undue credit were untrue and pointed to his negotiations on a deal with the new contractor and his efforts to avoid potential legal action in early 2012 when the former contractor was let go.
City officials balked when cost estimates of the project from Dimeo Construction, of Providence, jumped roughly $6 million.
“Billy handled it professionally. There were no lawsuits. He laid the ground work when he left,” Kannan said of Manzi.
Zanni said the decision was made as Manzi’s final term was ending, leaving him the heavy lifting when he took office in January 2012. “We were at an impasse,” he said. “This was not going anywhere when I took office. At the end of the day, I negotiated the contract with Consigli.”
Additionally, he said Dimeo was threatening to file a request in court for an injunction against terminating the contract. He said the injunction was avoided after discussions with Dimeo.
“At the end of the day, where does it stop? It stops with the mayor,” Zanni said. “Who would it be if something had gone wrong?”
Kannan said the original project budget was built and approved by Manzi, the Building Committee and the City Council. That budget, and the original agreement with Dimeo, allowed the city to terminate the contract if the cost or the schedule changed dramatically.
“I don’t think one person should be thinking they’re the only one who can do this,” Kannan said. “I think credit is given to a whole group. One person should not be taking credit.”
On Oct. 22, state Treasurer Steven Grossman and Jack McCarthy, executive director of the Massachusetts School Building Authority, visited the high school to promote the project and the MSBA’s role in renovating schools across the commonwealth.
Grossman, who has declared his intention to seek the Democratic nomination for governor next year, said last week that any increases in the project’s budget are the responsibility of the community and praised Zanni’s role in working out a new agreement.
“He was a good listener and listened carefully to the challenges,” Grossman said.
McCarthy said the strict oversight of the project on the city level that led Methuen to fire its first contractor and hire another is key to MSBA granting and maintaining projects.
Kannan said she did not want to comment on those remarks because she could not make the event. But she said the state should be looking at strong local oversight, which includes the mayor, the Building Committee and the City Council, when granting communities money for major projects.
“I supported it when it started and I’ll jump in like Steve Zanni jumped in,” said Kannan, who is finishing her third term on the City Council.
The Building Committee voted unanimously on Dec. 21, 2011, to allow Manzi and Zanni to pursue another contractor, a move in the waning days of Manzi’s term that required state approval.
Dimeo employees left the high school campus for good on Dec. 31, 2011. The city sent a letter to Gilbane Building Company, one of the three finalists during the bidding process, to take over the project from Dimeo. But Gilbane did not respond, and the city entered negotiations with Consigli that wrapped up with signatures on a contract in May 2012.
MSBA will pay for nearly two-thirds of the $98 million renovation and expansion project, which is expected to wrap up next summer.
Zanni is running for his second term as mayor. The election is Nov. 5.
Follow Douglas Moser on Twitter @EagleEyeMoser.
To comment on stories and see what others are saying, log on to eagletribune.com.