June 3, 2010

Councilors fued over 'Windowgate'

Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – A dispute is brewing over what transpired at the April 19 Taylor Library Trustees meeting, a matter involving two fellow councilors. As a result, Councilors Kevin Coyle and Janet Fairbanks are requesting that an investigation be launched.
According to the minutes of the monthly trustees meeting, the Energy Committee presented quotes for work on upgrading windows in the library. However, a vote on acceptance of a bid was tabled, according to the minutes, “because Brad Benson asked David Milz to bring him the quotes so that he may be able to match or beat the current quotes.”
Benson runs Benson's Lumber and Hardware in town.
In a three-paragraph statement delivered to each of the councilors by Coyle prior to the start of the meeting, Coyle and Fairbanks state, “On its face, this appears to be improper on the parts of both Mr. Milz and Mr. Benson. If Mr. Benson wanted to be part of the competitive bidding process, he should have submitted a bid, rather than getting to see other competitor's bids.”
Milz and Benson both contend that the minutes are inaccurate.
“There was a misunderstanding at that meeting, and it was clarified within a few days. That was my first meeting as liaison,” said Milz following the meeting. “They had three quotes, which ranged from $3,000 to $18,000. I said to the board if you give me the dimensions, I will go to Brad and find out what a quote should look like for the work, what would be a fair price for these dimensions.”
Benson said he chose not to bid on the project, and that prior to Tuesday's meeting, he knew nothing about the controversy.
Fairbanks said based on the content of the approved library minutes, the incident warrants in investigation by the Attorney General's office.
“This was brought to our attention and it's up to us to look into it. An investigation doesn't cost a dime for the Derry taxpayer, and would clear up the situation, clear Brad's name if he has nothing to hide,” Fairbanks said.
Milz contends that Benson did not ask him to bring him the bid information.
“I didn't even know what was on the agenda. Any misunderstanding is all on my part; Brad had nothing to do with it. He wasn't even aware of the situation until this bombshell was dropped on him at the meeting, like it was 'Windowgate' or something. I was made aware the day after the meeting by (Taylor Library Trustee chair) Candy Andrews that there had been a misunderstanding, which I thought we cleared up,” said Milz.
A "special meeting" was called by the trustees four days later. After Milz was met in the parking lot by two trustees, an abbreviated meeting took place without Milz.
Last night Andrews admitted there was some confusion among the trustees over what transpired on the 19th.
“It was David's first meeting, and we don't know him very well yet, so maybe we might have questioned him further under other circumstances. It was awkward. He made the offer to take the quotes to Brad, which is where the confusion came in. We didn't quite understand why he was going to do that. We knew that Brad wouldn't be able to install windows, and we needed someone who could do the whole job, so we weren't interested in entertaining any quotes from Brad,” Anderson said.
Milz said his intention was to get Brad's opinion on the existing bids, knowing that Benson's business had not bid on the job.
“I didn't think I was doing anything improper by asking Brad to blindly weigh in. I was aware that Brad had helped the town save a lot of money when they were accepting bids on the windows installed at the Derry Library,” Milz said.
Fairbanks said she can only rely on the minutes, which were submitted and approved.
“I always end up being the town crier, but in my heart of hearts, something smacks of impropriety here,” Fairbanks said.
Councilor Neil Wetherbee yesterday said he felt Coyle and Fairbanks could have addressed their concerns differently.
“It's deeply personal. It's an assault on what they feel is the council majority. I think there was malice on the part of Kevin and Janet,” Wetherbee said. “We all say we want a more unified council, but this isn't the way to do it. I'm not saying you should ignore something like this, but if they'd asked Brad about it, I'm sure he would have answered the question.”
Benson had asked Stenhouse to interview all those involved. Yesterday Stenhouse said he intends to do that prior to the June 15 meeting, when the matter will be addressed as an agenda item.

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