Inspector general official: Town does not have to bid contract for public access services

Staff Writer
Friday, March 17, 2017

AMHERST — A letter from an official with the state’s inspector general’s office is bolstering the contention by Amherst Media representatives that the town doesn’t have to solicit bids for public access services.

Amherst Media Executive Director James Lescault on Monday presented to the Select Board a letter from Joshua L. Giles, the director of Policy and Government Division for the inspector general, to David Sullivan, general counsel for state Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, noting that public, education and government, or PEG services, are not covered under the state’s procurement act when supplied by a nonprofit such as Amherst Media.

Lescault encouraged the Select Board to not post a request for proposal, or bid advertisement, on Friday, but instead to begin negotiations with Amherst Media for a new 10-year contract. Amherst Media has provided the service for more than four decades.

“We all want the very best for the town’s residents, and I believe if Amherst Media is given the chance, through a fair and transparent contract negotiation, we will continue to provide the services that meet the citizens needs, as we have done for the past 41 years,” Lescault said.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman said Wednesday that he and other officials are seeking clarification. Earlier, he was informed by the town’s auditing firm Melanson Heath and a state Department of Revenue representative that the town could no longer pass revenues it receives from its contract with Comcast, totaling about $300,000 a year, through to Amherst Media.

Still, Bockelman said the town intends to post the RFP when it’s ready and “if we go that route.”

In his letter, Giles wrote that exemptions to the state procurement law, known as chapter 3oB, come under what is known as a “grant agreement,” which is defined as “an agreement between a governmental body and an individual or nonprofit entity the purpose of which is to carry out a public purpose of support or stimulation instead of procuring supplies or services for the benefit or use of the governmental body.”

“Since many of these PEG services are provided by nonprofits through grant agreements with the town and are therefore not considered ‘services’ under chapter 30B, there isn’t a need for an exemption since, under these circumstances, PEG services provided by a nonprofit are not subject to chapter 30B in the first place,” Giles wrote.

Meanwhile, Amherst Media on March 10 signed an extension to its current contract that ensures it will continue to provide public access through June 30. Bockelman in February offered to amend the current agreement, which expired at the end of October, and allow the contract to continue.

Amherst Media has continued to get paid, even after the contract expired, and has continued to provide all services, including broadcasting and taping public meetings.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.