Former Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua was so eager to pave his way to victory in last November’s election that he signed away the city’s guarantee of quality work from a road contractor. He did this despite warnings both from the contractor and from within his own administration that the late-season road paving would not last.
But, with everyone believing that Lantigua would cruise to a win at the polls and another four years in City Hall, no one had the courage to stand up to the vindictive mayor and say “No.”
Lantigua had made the repaving of streets in the city the centerpiece of his re-election campaign. As each street got its fresh coat of asphalt, a distinctive blue sign crediting the paving to Lantigua would be installed on the roadside. Lantigua posted on his Facebook page photo after photo of himself personally directing the paving program.
The former mayor spent a total of about $1.8 million in city and state money paving streets and filling potholes across the city.
The campaign resonated with voters, several of whom told our reporters covering the preliminary election in September that they were supporting Lantigua because of his efforts to repair the streets.
Lantigua is hardly the first mayor to make road improvements in an effort to win support of voters. After all, street repairs are a tangible reminder to voters of the role government plays in their daily lives.
But Lantigua’s campaign was different. He circumvented the normal bidding and contract requirements, directly ordering a paving contractor to continue repairing city streets long after its initial contract had been completed.
In the 15 days from July 22 to Aug. 6, the bills from Highway Rehabilitation Corp. of New York approached $400,000. But company had a contract with the city to perform just $84,979 worth of repaving.
Lantigua narrowly lost the November election. Now Mayor Daniel Rivera is saying the city will not pay the contractor for the work that was performed without a contract.
But someone -- read taxpayers -- will end up paying. Some of the roads resurfaced last fall by Highway Rehabilitation Corp. are already crumbling.
Kenneth Carr, owner of Highway Rehabilitation Corp., told The Eagle-Tribune last weekend that his company warned Lantigua it was too late in the season to do some of the repaving the mayor demanded. Once the weather cools, a top-coat necessary to seal the asphalt will not stick. Unsealed asphalt absorbs water and will heave and crack during freeze and thaw cycles.
In fact, the contractor refused to do the work without a waiver of liability from the mayor. Carr provided The Eagle-Tribune with a copy of the waiver signed by Lantigua and City Attorney Charles Boddy.
It’s a clear example of what results when politicians spend other people’s money to buy votes for themselves.
Why did no one call into question the mayor’s poor decision to continue paving the streets against recommendations? What was Boddy thinking when he signed off on the liability waiver?
Boddy said he approved the waiver only on its form and declined to comment further.
“The mayor wanted it done,” Boddy told reporter Keith Eddings. “My role in that regard is only to review the (waiver) for legality as to form.”
Where was Lawrence’s state-appointed fiscal overseer, Robert Nunes? The overseer said the decision was “outrageous” and “unacceptable” but apparently knew nothing about it at the time the city was racking up bills totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars. So much for fiscal oversight.
Where was City Engineer Andrew Wall, who surely understands the risks of late-season paving? He, in his own words, was watching as Lantigua was “driving the boat.”
Lantigua and Boddy have much to answer for in this fiasco, as do the lesser players who should have been exercising more oversight.
Lantigua, as usual, did not return our reporter’s calls seeking comment. Perhaps Attorney General Martha Coakley can coax some answers out of the former mayor.