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Legality, quality of paving in Lawrence doubted

Current mayor faults Lantigua

William Lantigua, the former mayor, is accused of hijacking Lawrence’s repaving process, riding the streets with contractors, and deciding what roads would be repaired.

Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff/File

William Lantigua, the former mayor, is accused of hijacking Lawrence’s repaving process, riding the streets with contractors, and deciding what roads would be repaired.

Former mayor William Lantigua of Lawrence made his support for a series of road repaving projects a significant part of his reelection bid last year.

But just two months after voters narrowly ousted the controversial mayor from office, city records suggest that Lantigua steered hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of no-bid roadwork to his preferred contractor.

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Lawrence’s top public works official said Lantigua bulldozed over the department’s authority and budget for road fixes while pushing for a series of major improvements before the heavily contested primary last September.

Now, Lantigua’s successor, Mayor Dan Rivera, says that not only will the company probably lose out on payments for the uncontracted road work, it might also be asked to repave some of the roads. Several buckled during recent winter storms and plowing, city officials say, possibly because the projects were rushed at the behest of Lantigua.

“There was no contract,” Rivera said in an interview Tuesday. “They did the work at their own risk and should have gotten a contract. But it seems the former mayor was in a hurry to get it all done because of the election.”

The spat, first reported Tuesday by the Eagle-Tribune of Lawrence, revived long-held questions about Lantigua’s tenure as mayor of one of the Commonwealth’s poorest and most troubled cities.

The last of the confetti had barely fallen after Lantigua’s historic 2009 victory to become the state’s first popularly elected Latino mayor before his administration was engulfed in scandal.

Lantigua, 58, has faced federal and state corruption investigations and was sued by Attorney General Martha Coakley for failure to file a campaign finance report. Several of his closest political allies were indicted on corruption charges.

The former mayor, who did not return calls Tuesday seeking comment, now stands accused of hijacking the city’s road repaving process, personally riding the city streets with contractors and making ground-level decisions about what roads would be repaired.

“I was flicked off to the side of the road,” said John Isensee, the city’s acting public works director, who said that Lantigua ignored his advice about what roads should be paved. Isensee said he was left in the dark about the skyrocketing cost associated with the influx of impromptu road repair work.

“Did the past mayor get a little drunk on the amount of work we were able to do and looked at it as an opportunity to expand his political base?” Isensee asked during an interview. “I wouldn’t doubt it for a minute.”

City officials were scheduled to meet Tuesday night to debate how to handle the claim by Highway Rehab, a New York-based road repair company, that it is entitled to $294,444 in payments for road projects completed last July and August.

Records show that Highway Rehab was contracted by the city in early July to do about $85,000 of road work. However, the company said in an e-mail to city officials that it was then instructed by City Engineer Andrew Wall to pave additional streets.

Wall, who also could not be reached Tuesday for comment, told the Eagle-Tribune that Lantigua authorized the additional repaving projects.

“The mayor was driving the boat,” Wall told the Eagle- Tribune, “so I went where the mayor wanted to go.”

However, because the additional work exceeded 25 percent of the previously agreed-upon project cost, state law required the project be rebid.

Citing the fact that the additional roadwork had not been publicly bid, the city’s purchasing agent e-mailed the company Aug. 6 to halt additional road repairs and to inform the company it would not be paid for the noncontracted work.

“Cease any and all work in Lawrence immediately,” wrote Rita Brousseau, Lawrence’s purchasing agent, according the e-mail obtained by the Globe. “Please take note that the City of Lawrence is obligated to pay Highway Rehab the full contract amount and nothing more. No authorization was given to your company to perform any additional work, therefore; the city will not pay you for such.”

In a letter to Council President Modesto Maldonado, an attorney representing Highway Rehab requested that the council take steps to pay for the additional roadwork that had been completed, despite the fact that it is not contractually obligated to.

City officials have said that because the additional work was not subject to a round of public bidding, they cannot pay the company for it without violating state law. Highway Rehab has asked that the city petition the Legislature for the latitude to cut a check for the completed work.

“There is no question that Highway Rehab performed the work set forth in its invoice in a good and workmanlike manner and in good faith,” wrote Matthew Caffrey, an Andover-based attorney for the firm.

Isensee said that because some of the paving was rushed, it has not weathered the winter and will need to be done again.

Maldonado has directed a City Council subcommittee to bring recommendations about how the city will handle the issue of payment and said the inquiry will also assess the quality and legality of the work done by Highway Rehab.

“There are too many loose ends,” he said. “We need a lot of answers to questions before we can move forward.”

Wesley Lowery can be reached at wesley.lowery@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @WesleyLowery.

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