Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Record: Englewood Cliffs stops work on fire sirens to review contract legality

Englewood Cliffs stops work on fire sirens to review contract legality

Monday October 8, 2012, 6:23 PM


ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS – Borough officials have halted work on a $63,000 upgrade of its three fire sirens while they try to determine if the contract, which was signed by the police chief, is legal.

The project, which Council President Joseph Favaro called “one screwed-up mess,” will be discussed at a public work session at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the council chambers in the police department, 10 Kahn Terrace.

The problems with the siren upgrade came to light this summer when Gerald Misk, who lives near the siren on Johnson Avenue and wanted the borough to relocate it, complained that crews were replacing, rather than removing, the siren pole across from his house.

“We were all shocked to find out” work had begun, Councilwoman Carrol McMorrow said Monday.

Technical Communications of Connecticut was the sole bidder on the project, and the council had awarded it the contract. But as far as anyone on the council could recall, no contract had ever been signed.

Mayor Joseph Parisi was particularly surprised because he has to sign all city contracts.

“I was left in the dark,” Parisi said.

Borough officials issued a stop-work order soon after receiving Misk’s complaint, and began investigating the contract. What they’ve been able to determine, according to Parisi and Favaro, is Police Chief Michael Cioffi signed the contract — even though he doesn’t have that authority ­— apparently at the direction of Susan Spohn, the borough administrator who died in March.

The contract, they said, seemed to have been written by the company, which has already been paid in full for the work. They also discovered the request for bids was never advertised and that the company learned about the request for bids from someone in Borough Hall. Favaro and Parisi didn’t know who tipped off the company.

“This never should’ve happened,” said Favaro, who served for years as the borough administrator and clerk. “Somehow, this company got a copy of the bid specs from someone.”

Former Borough Attorney Douglas Doyle could not be reached for comment Monday. Cioffi declined to comment on the situation on Monday, saying the matter is in the council’s hands.

Parisi said he didn’t ask why the contract hadn’t been brought to him sooner, saying he thought the administration was handling the details.

“I’m a part-time mayor; I have to rely on the professionals,” he said.

Borough Attorney E. Carter Corriston Sr. is looking into whether the project has to be rebid and if the city can ask for a refund. Favaro said that even if the process was improper and the borough decides to scrap the project, Englewood Cliffs may not be able to get its money back.

“We can’t hold the vendor liable because he did nothing wrong,” Favaro said.

The stop-work order has left Englewood Cliffs with just one working fire siren, near borough hall, to alert volunteer firefighters to report to duty. The two other sirens are on Bayview Avenue near the senior citizens center and in Woody Field off Johnson Avenue. All three were installed at least 40 years ago, Favaro said.

The department’s 38 volunteers now must rely on pagers, which Fire Chief George Drimones said aren’t as reliable as the sirens.

“Not everyone carries their pagers during the day,” he said. “”But they hear the siren and they come to the fire house.”

A consultant, Larry Robertson of Teaneck, has been hired for about $300 to advise the borough on the best locations for the sirens. His report, which Favaro said recommends the sirens stay where they are, will be discussed at Tuesday’s meeting.

Drimones said the new sirens would be higher in the air and softer than the old sirens. Residents had complained the sirens were too loud and could damage children’s hearing because they were near a playground and school.

Drimones also said the new sirens also could act as a public address system, allowing the borough to alert residents to tornados and other emergencies.

But Misk, the resident whose complaint brought the contract irregularities to the council’s attention, said the borough should look at whether it needs the sirens anymore.

“With all the modern technology, you just don’t need it,” he said.


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