Street Lighting Contract Predated Period of GOP Conflict-of-Interest Claim
Ted Gatsas & Danny O’Neil Fought Over LED Lighting Vendor in 2015 — OPINION
MANCHESTER, NH — The nearly six-year-old street lighting contract that has been dredged up to support ex-Alderman Elizabeth Moreau’s attack on on Alderman-at-Large Daniel P. O’Neil predates his alleged employment with the lobbying company that represented the winning bidder.
The city contract was signed in 2015, and Alderman O’Neil’s alleged employment began in 2016.
The charge by Elizabeth Moreau, Republican, against Daniel P. O’Neil, Democrat, is that he did not report his employment with the lobbying firm. The allegation was made in a letter sent to Richard “Dick” Tracy at the Office of the New Hampshire Attorney General.
Sources reveal that the person who gave her Dick Tracy’s name, was Ward 8 Alderman Mike Porter. It was on a Ward 8 Facebook chat group that Moreau’s narrative seemingly was introduced.
Moreau is one of the social media warriors pushing this Republican anecdote* of (alleged) municipal corruption, with other posters doing some of the heavy lifting.
After disseminating news of Moreau’s letter online, the social media warriors — which include some of the heavy hitters of the Queen City GOP — parsed the language on the lobbyist’s website and a list of clients for posts claiming that there was a quid pro quo with the lighting contract. In essence, the charge is O’Neil as an unregistered lobbyist had pushed the lighting contract.
Since the contract was signed a year earlier than the alleged employment, 2015 versus 2016, they had a problem. When this was pointed out on social media, that the contract was signed a year before the alleged employment period, fresh charges that the company and a company officer made campaign contributions to O’Neil were floated.
When asked where the poster got the information about the campaign contributions, the social media warrior said there were reported on the Manchester City Clerk website.
The contributions were legal, and reported, so no law was violated. And they came before the alleged employment.
So much for a “smoking gun.” This one’s stone cold.
If Gas Lighting is a process known to psychologists, perhaps Street Lighting should be known to those studying Manchester, New Hampshire politics.
Alderman O’Neil has denied that he was employed by the lobbyist, claiming that Moreau’s charges were “garbage.”
The attack seemingly is politically motivated, as the Union Leader and Queen City political pundits are of the opinion that Moreau — who gave up her aldermanic seat when she moved out of Ward 6 — is running for the seat that O’Neil has held since the alderman-at-large position was created by the 1998 City Charter.
Indeed, one wonders if this is not just the first salvo of Moreau’s 2021 campaign, but the first blast from Manchester heavy hitter Ted Gatsas, who has begun his second term on the Executive Council, who might be planning his own comeback in Manchester. Before Christmas, the political grapevine was buzzing with the news that former Alderman Tim Baines would not run against Joyce Craig for mayor, and that Governor Chris Sununu was urging Gatsas to run for mayor.
There was little love between Ted Gatsas and Danny O’Neil, either feigned or real, when the mayor had to struggle with O’Neil in his capacity as the Chairman of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BMA). For, although Gatsas chaired the BMA meetings, it was O’Neil who was Chairman of the Board during the first six years of Gatsas’ reign. Both the mayor and the Chairman of the Board set the agenda for BMA meetings.
A look at the City’s 2015 offering and signing of a municipal contract to replace its street lights with LED bulbs elucidates the struggles the two politicians engaged in while sharing power positions on the BMA.
The contract to install LED street lights in Manchester ultimately was won by Siemens, a company that was not favored by Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas. Try as he could, Gatsas could not steer the contract towards his favored bidder.
“Corrupted” by Gatsas
Back in early 2015, Aldermen-at-Large Joseph Kelley Levasseur stated on his Facebook page that Ameresco, a firm that bid on the City of Manchester’s LED street lighting contract, believed that its competitors were tipped off about their bid during the Request for Proposal (RFP) process. The Queen City used the RFP process rather than a sealed bid system in which the bid would automatically go to the lowest bidder that met the contract’s specifications.
Ameresco’s bid was approximately $1 million lower than the initial bid put in by Philips Lighting, a company favored by Mayor Ted Gatsas. According to the post on Levasseur’s Facebook page, “Coincidently after the low bid from Ameresco, Gatsas favorite dropped their bid by one million to almost match Ameresco.”
Levasseur’s post went on to say, “City procurement code does not allow the mayor or anyone associated with the bidding process to divulge to any other bidder what any other bidder bid. Ameresco alleges its competitors were tipped off and were then allowed to come in with new lower bids.”
Alderman Levasseur believed that the RFP process was “corrupted” by Gatsas, who manipulated the bidding to favor Philips so that it would be awarded the contract. Levasseur alleges that Gatsas’ motivation was “to get someone close to him the LED lighting contract.”
Some of Gatsas’ behavior during the street lighting bidding process was extreme, even for him, in the opinion of political pundits. He has been steadfast in his opposition to the intention of many of the aldermen to award the new LED street lighting contract to Siemens rather than Philips. Gatsas went so far as to throw the representatives of Siemens out of his office for allegedly using a metaphor he found offensive, if he is to be believed.
Embarrassed by the Mayor’s Behavior
During the March 3 meeting of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BOMA) in which the LED street lighting contract was voted on, the mayor engaged in a heated exchange with Levasseur’s fellow Alderman-at-Large, Daniel O’Neil, who favored awarding the $4.5 million contract to Siemens. The longest-serving member of the Board, O’Neil was elected chairman of BOMA by a vote of his fellow alderman and serves as acting-mayor in Gatsas’ absence.
The bad blood between O’Neil and Gatsas was not just limited to their conflict over the awarding of the LED street lighting contract, but over the mayor’s failure to inform the BOMA Chair that he was out of town, vacationing in Aruba. There is a suspicion that Gatsas, who insisted over O’Neil’s objections that he is not required by the City Charter to inform the BOMA Chair of his absence, may have been trying to keep O’Neil from functioning as acting mayor in his absence.
Recounting how an angry Gatsas had kicked the representatives from Siemens out of a meeting in which bids were under review, O’Neil claimed, “I was embarrassed” by the mayor’s behavior.
Gatsas said he kicked the Siemens reps out of the meeting as he was offended by a metaphor they used to explain their price for LED lighting “smart controls”, which was higher than that of other vendors. Explaining that Siemens’ smart controls were of higher quality than those of the other vendors, a Siemens rep used the purchase of a child’s bike helmet as a metaphor for why someone would be willing to pay a higher price for a better quality product.
Gatsas told O’Neil, “When somebody wanting to do business with the city of Manchester compares a child’s head to smart controls, that’s wrong, that’s absolutely wrong.”
That was the reason the Siemens reps “got thrown out of a meeting,” the Mayor explained.
It was a rather remarkable explanation and one that strains the credulity of more than one observer, even accounting for Gatsas’ fabled bad temper.
Ted Gatsas is the man who, as mayor of Manchester served as chair of the Board of the School Committee, kicked members of the New Hampshire advisory committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission out of a BOSC meeting. In that incident, Gatsas was enraged when the advisory committee members charged that minority and ESL students were being discriminated against due to a lack of minority teachers in Manchester’s schools.
If Joe Kelly Levasseur was right and there was some vested interest behind the mayor’s pushing for the Phillips bid on the street lighting contract, there might have been a different motivation for booting out Siemens reps than just mentioning a child’s bike helmet.
There is little doubt in the minds of most pundits surveying the Manchester political scene that Ted Gatsas was a disruptive force when he was mayor. The grapevine reported that City Hall employees were jubilant after the inauguration of Joyce Craig as mayor in 2017.
The bigger question is: Is the disruptive force that was Ted Gatsas, which has been minimal since his loss in the 2017 mayoral election — content as he is, seemingly, in his Executive Council duties — exerting itself again in Manchester politics? Or are Elizabeth Moreau’s charges smaller than that, just those of yet another politician on the make?
*According to Merriam-Webster.com’s The Greek Smear Job at the Root of Anecdote, the word comes from the Anekdota of Procopius. A 6th Century AD historian of the Byzantine Empire, Procopius’ Anekdota (“from the Greek a- meaning ‘not,’ and ekdidonai, meaning ‘to publish’) contained attacks on the Emperor Justinian and other leading lights of Byzantium.
A version of this opinion piece originally appeared in 2016. It contained the details of the street lighting contract process.