December 12, 2007
Call For Better Contract Oversight
East Hampton Town Councilwoman Deb Foster, in the final weeks of her term, chose not to ride off quietly into the sunset.
Referencing the controversy surrounding the contract between East Hampton Town and East End Ice, Inc. the company that manages the taxpayer-built skating rink on Abrahams Path in Amagansett, Foster suggested at a board meeting on December 4th the board should find a better way to make sure contracts are reviewed. She said she'd like contracts between the town and private firms managing recreational facilities to be circulated among board members before they are signed.
Board members were caught unaware, they said, by an expose in The Independent in September, which revealed what political foes of the McGintee administration dubbed a "sweetheart deal" between the town and EEI.
As of last Friday, Foster still hadn't seen the East End Ice contract. During the work session, Councilwoman Pat Mansir joined with colleagues Pete Hammerle and Supervisor Bill McGintee in scolding Foster for failing to stay abreast of work session discussions of the agreement. When Foster complained she hadn't seen the contract, Mansir said, "I have the contract sitting on my coffee table. Want to see mine?" Mansir, however, told The Independent she wasn't aware of the terms when quizzed in September.
McGintee and town attorney Laura Molinari both said the matter had been the subject of work session discussion several times before the agreement was inked. However, Foster told the Independent at the time that she didn't realize the rink would oftentimes be closed to the public while EEI charged rental fees of $100 an hour to private groups.
The matter became a campaign issue when it was revealed Rob Wood, who served on the police force for 18 years with McGintee, was one of the principals of East End Ice. Wood has on three occasions been accused of roughing up civilians and most recently was suspended after his arrest for obstructing a police drug investigation. He has since been indicted and retired from the force.
McGintee said circulating contracts to the entire board would be counterproductive and "spell delay" for projects. It's the legal staff's job to make sure contracts are correct, he said. The town board is sent abstracts of each agreement for review, but looking over all the contracts that go through the town attorney's office would be too cumbersome a task for the town board.
When the story broke in September, Hammerle and McGintee came under fire for voting to give EEI the contract to run the skating rink while they were members of the organization's board or directors. The councilman espoused ignorance of the appointment, stating he was placed on the board without being asked. He has since resigned.
Last week Hammerle asked Foster if, given the chance to read the contract before it was finalized, she would have done something differently. Foster emphasized that she didn't believe anything illegal or unethical had transpired, but, "I would have been more interested in more of an accounting as to what their budget is."
McGintee said Wood's partner, James LaGarenne, would make a presentation in January fully articulating the company's budget. "Their books are open," he said, adding, "There is no big dark hidden secret here."
However, LaGarenne and Wood also run East End Hockey Assoc. Inc. out of the same building. The board has no oversight over that corporation and no auditing procedure in place to check its revenues. Also, as revealed in the Independent article, a great deal of cash changes hands, including thousands of dollars paid by Latino soccer leagues and from several concession machines. There is no independent accounting of the monies.
Foster began the December 4 work session discussion by asking the board to consider a new policy. She'd like to see the town go through a formal "Request for Proposal" process before selecting management companies to run town recreation facilities. The argument that East End Ice was given a "sweetheart deal" was bolstered when it became clear that the firm was selected without any other company being given the chance to try for the gig. McGintee said he had "no problem" with enacting the policy.
Hammerle has asserted that no other company had the expertise to run the hockey rink. In fact, although the men have been involved in adult and youth ice hockey leagues for years, often charging for their services, they have no experience running soccer leagues at all.Several entities have since come forward to say they would have been interested in bidding.