LAWRENCE — Mayor Daniel Rivera on Thursday accused prosecutors of “dragging their feet” for not charging those responsible for the botched street paving jobs that he said will cost $600,000 to repair, but stopped short of identifying those he believes should be charged or the prosecutors who should charge them.
“The buck always stops with the mayor. At that time, the mayor was responsible,” Rivera said at a press conference on Andover Street, standing beside some of the ruts that have appeared in one of the unsealed paving jobs former Mayor William Lantigua ordered up in the weeks before November’s election, which he lost narrowly to Rivera. “Let me tell you something: if I wasted $600,000 in a private company, charges would be brought against me. There’s no reason it should be any different in (government).”
Lantigua had sections of Andover Street and 15 other streets paved in October, when he waved off warnings from the contractor that it was too late in the season to seal the new asphalt. The contractor, Highway Rehab of New York, agreed to do the work only if Lantigua signed a document waiving its liability, which Lantigua did Oct. 1. Much of the work heaved and buckled over the winter.
Rivera said the 16 streets would be repaired and sealed within six weeks, along with several others he said were paved last year even as the city was planning to clean or replace the water pipes below them, which required ripping up the new asphalt. In all, Rivera said the repairs will cost $600,000.
The bill will be paid out of the state’s Chapter 90 fund, which reimburses localities for road work. The state also paid for the initial round of paving Lantigua ordered.
Also last year, the city’s former chief engineer told a federal grand jury convened to investigate the paving work that Lantigua directed him to ask Highway Rehab to continue paving other streets even after its $84,979 contract ran out. The bill reached $379,423 before city Purchasing Agent Rita Brousseau stopped the work.
Rivera has refused to pay the overrun.
The grand jury in March subpoenaed at least three city employees and numerous documents in an effort to determine whether the sudden blitz of pavings Lantigua ordered in the final months of his failed bid for a second term was intended to win votes. It issued no indictments.
Lantigua promoted the paving jobs throughout his campaign, marking the streets with signs bearing his name, describing the work in interviews and at rallies, and posting hundreds of photos of crews and heavy machinery on his Facebook page.
“Today, I’m calling on those who are investigating this matter and those who should be investigating this matter to prioritize it and to bring it to closure,” Rivera said. “It’s very important that people are held responsible for this. Lawrence often times gets a bad reputation for not doing the right thing, but it’s hard for us to bring law and order when in matters of this import, it appears that the authorities are not going after those responsible.
“I’m not sure why they’re dragging their feet,” Rivera added. “Over $600,000 has been wasted and it appears that bidding rules have been broken or circumvented. They should be all over this or at the very least they should tell us where they stand in the investigation because currently we’re in the dark. Where is the legal process, I ask? The longer they wait to hold someone responsible and the longer the public good is ignored just means that justice is denied to the taxpayer, and that the sentiment that government waste is not only tolerated but will be ignored will fester in the mind of the taxpayers.”
A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, who convened the grand jury, did not return a phone call Thursday. Spokespersons for Gov. Deval Patrick, state Transportation Secretary Richard Davey and District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett also did not return phone calls.
Spokespersons for state Attorney General Martha Coakley and state Inspector General Glenn Cunha declined to comment on whether their offices are investigating the allegations against Lantigua.
Lantigua also did not return a phone call.
Rivera said he had not contacted the DOT any of the prosecutors or investigative agencies with his concerns, but said he would call the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the state Inspector General later Thursday.
The problems with the paving work came to light just after Rivera took office in January, when Highway Rehab asked him to pay the overrun on the first job and informed him that Lantigua had waived the guarantee on second job. The issue disappeared for six months, until Thursday’s press conference, when Rivera refocused the spotlight on it at a time when Lantigua is attempting a political comeback by challenging state Rep. Marcos Devers for the 16th Essex House seat.
Devers stood at Rivera’s right hand at the press conference, but did not speak until afterwards.
Rivera said he waited until now to hold the press conference and call the prosecutors because he said he did not want to politicize the problem.
“We didn’t want to come in and make is seem like it was a political thing, go right after the former administration on this thing,” Rivera said. “But we got to the point where the frustration level is high enough that we want somebody to do something.”
Devers said after the press conference that he also has not contacted state or federal law enforcement agencies asking for an investigation in the eight months since the controversy came to light.
“We did our part,” he said. “I voted, I advocated for Chapter 90 (aid for Lawrence). Whatever role I have to play, when it’s the right time, I’ll play that role.”
He went a step further than Rivera, identifying by name the former mayor, whom he will face on the ballot in November as he attempts to keep his Statehouse seat.
“This is a poor city,” he said. “We cannot run this city as a third-world country. That’s what happened. We made a big mistake having Lantigua as a mayor.”