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DPW e-mail, relationship under a lens

Mayor Michael J. Sullivan of Lawrence said he doesn't believe City Council president Patrick Blanchette "threw his weight around" to get extra work done on the street where he lives.

Blanchette is not under investigation. But, according to Sullivan, Department of Public Works director Frank McCann and projects and planning supervisor Andrea Traficanti are being investigated by the state inspector general in connection with $800,000 in repairs to High Street and another project that went over budget.

The High Street job cost some $400,000 more than originally earmarked by city councilors and the mayor, said Sullivan. The increase occurred because of extra work done, such as improving sidewalks and curbs, the mayor said.

State law requires that projects exceeding original bids by 25 percent or more have to go out for rebid, which did not occur in this case, Sullivan said.

Blanchette denies that he used any influence to get extra work done on his street and has criticized the investigation of McCann .

Sullivan, who appointed McCann as public works director and later hired Traficanti, said that McCann and Traficanti are also being investigated by the state Ethics Commission over whether their alleged romantic relationship gave Traficanti more authority than she should have had. McCann is Traficanti's supervisor.

A lawyer for McCann said that there was nothing inappropriate about the relationship and that McCann has done a good job for the city. Traficanti's lawyer said that she did not know about the relationship and that her client has done nothing wrong.

Earlier this month, Sullivan suspended McCann for two weeks without pay because of the inspector general's investigation and other concerns. McCann remains suspended from his $104,000 a year job, but with pay. The city and inspector general's office are also investigating McCann for allegedly authorizing close to $500,000 in fiber-optic work without seeking a required bid. And the mayor has charged that McCann mismanaged the investigation into recent thefts of money from city parking facilities.

Traficanti is on leave, according to her lawyer, Marsha Kazarosian .

Blanchette's name surfaced last week after city officials seized e-mails from the DPW office. In an e-mail dated Oct. 2 , Traficanti asked McCann and other DPW employees about the status of High Street improvements.

"I am sure that you can understand the Council President (sic) frustration due to the lengthy process of this particular job," Traficanti wrote. "The Department of Public Work has and will continue to have a great rapport with the Lawrence City Council and I would hope that this simple project could be rectified in a timely fashion."

Traficanti continued: "I truly believe that the Council President has waited his turn for this particular street to be reconstructed. The Council president begins his fourth term and he has been waiting for the past seven years," the e-mail said.

Sullivan said the mentioning of Blanchette is "kind of strange," especially since the project went way over budget. "Unfortunately, Blanchette lives on that street," said Sullivan. "I don't know behind the scenes what really happened."

Still, Sullivan said he doesn't think Blanchette was using his position to get favors from a city agency. "I don't think [Traficanti] was speaking for him," said Sullivan. "I don't think the City Council president is like that."

In a telephone interview, Blanchette denied using his position to get extra work done on his street.

"I don't control when people mention my name," said Blanchette. "I've asked about a number of streets in my districts, not just High Street."

Blanchette said the investigation into McCann and Traficanti has now reached the "propaganda stages" and is nothing but "political games."

Kazarosian said she wasn't aware of the e-mail sent by her client, Traficanti, but said she "probably sent out thousands" of e-mails about public works projects because that's her job.

"A city councilor has a right to have his street paved just like a regular citizen," Kazarosian said. "My client has worked for the city for many years and she has nothing to hide."

The mayor also said a former city employee and a current employee have filed complaints with the state Ethics Commission centered around McCann and Traficanti's alleged romantic relationship.

Carol Carson , a spokeswoman for the state Ethics Commission, said the agency could neither confirm nor deny that it is conducting an investigation of McCann and Traficanti.

Kazarosian said she was unaware of any ethics investigation and has seen no evidence of any wrong doing by her client. She said she didn't know if McCann and Traficanti were dating, adding that if they were, it "was a private matter."

Scott Gleason , attorney for McCann, said his client has been "as transparent as he could possibly be" about his relationship with Traficanti. He questioned Sullivan's concern since the city doesn't have a clear policy governing employees' dating.

Gleason has said that the investigations into McCann's work at the public works department are politically motivated and that his client is getting "overwhelming support from the community."

The lawyer said McCann was doing a good job as public works director.

Blanchette said Sullivan has known about the relationship between McCann and Traficanti all along and could have done something about it months ago.

Sullivan said he has never criticized the private relationship between McCann and Traficanti.

"My concern with the relationship centered around the e-mail that was inappropriate," said Sullivan. The mayor said it appears that Traficanti was using the relationship to give orders.

Russell Contreras can be reached