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Newton mayor faces Mass. GOP complaint

Alleges conflict of interest in city contract

By Lisa Kocian
Globe Staff / July 8, 2011

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The Massachusetts Republican Party said that it filed a complaint yesterday with the state Ethics Commission, alleging that Newton Mayor Setti Warren violated the conflict of interest law by awarding a city contract to a company that employs his former mayoral campaign cochairman.

Warren announced in April that he was awarding a contract to Kleinfelder/SEA Consultants to evaluate municipal buildings. The company employs Howard Haywood, who was one of three chairmen of Warren’s mayoral campaign.

The contract, worth up to an estimated $500,000, has not yet been signed by the first-term mayor.

Warren, who is running as a Democrat for the US Senate seat held by Republican Scott Brown, has denied any wrongdoing.

“This is just the latest in a long string of baseless attacks coming from Scott Brown’s allies at the Massachusetts GOP and the National Republican Senatorial Committee,’’ said Chuck Gilboy, spokesman for Warren’s Senate campaign, in an e-mailed statement. “The Republicans have issued a total of 10 separate press releases targeting Mayor Warren since the start of his campaign.

“The Republican Party is clearly worried about Setti Warren, because they know that he will successfully take on Scott Brown. Setti Warren is an Iraq War veteran, a mayor who has balanced two budgets while improving services, and he has the determination to hold Scott Brown accountable for his irresponsible record in the Senate.’’

The ethics complaint alleges that Warren interceded in the bidding process by awarding the contract to Kleinfelder, which was ranked third by the city’s Designer Selection Committee.

David Giannotti, a spokesman for the Ethics Commission, said he cannot confirm or deny the receipt of any complaint because of “strict confidentiality requirements imposed on the commission’’ by state statute.

Bob Rooney, Newton’s chief operating officer, said last week that the mayor, by city ordinance, had to choose the recipient of the contract based on the panel’s recommendations. The mayor could have chosen any of the four finalists but was supposed to explain his choice if he bypassed the top ranked company, which he did in a letter to the Designer Selection Committee, dated April 21.

Warren wrote that Kleinfelder demonstrated that it could “provide a risk-based prioritization of capital needs, integrated across the broader range of infrastructure in our city’s inventory. No other firm presented this facet of consideration to the same degree.’’

Warren further explained to the Globe that Kleinfelder has proprietary software he felt was a better match for the project.

The Massachusetts GOP complaint states that Warren secured for Haywood, “an unwarranted privilege of substantial value,’’ which is against state law. The complaint also states that the Ethics Commission has ruled in the past that officials must publicly report potential conflicts of interest that “are far more attenuated than the conflict here.’’

Haywood could not be reached for comment.

The issue first came to light last week when VFA, the company that was ranked first by the city committee, complained to the Globe and other media about being passed over.

After that, Warren’s campaign returned a donation from Haywood.

“Our campaign does a routine review of all contributions at the end of the quarter, including small online donations,’’ said Gilboy.

“At that time, we return any contribution that may give even the appearance of impropriety. This quarter, out of an abundance of caution, we returned two contributions. Mr. Haywood’s $100 online contribution was one of these.’’

The complaint requests that the Ethics Commission open an adjudicatory proceeding and rescind or cancel the Kleinfelder/SEA contract.

“Setti Warren owes a full explanation as to why his campaign chairman was given an inside track on a public contract,’’ said Nathan Little, executive director of the Massachusetts Republican Party, in an e-mailed statement. “People are sick and tired of business as usual and cronyism in politics.’’

Lisa Kocian can be reached at lkocian@globe.com.