Haverhill Halts School Lunch Payments Until City Councilors Ratify Contract

(File photograph.)

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No more payments are being made to a school food service provider until Haverhill city councilors retroactively approve a five-year contract with the company.

Councilors are being asked to authorize Mayor James J. Fiorentini to enter into the contract with Islandia, N.Y.-based Whitsons New England even though the firm has been on the job since 2014.

Although the School Committee approved what has now been deemed a five-year contract with Whitsons, the City Council was not asked to sign off on it as required by state law. As WHAV first reported Oct. 11, a review by the Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials found contracts in excess of three years without City Council approval. In an opinion issued Thursday, City Solicitor William D. Cox Jr. agreed.

“After a diligent search of school and city records we have not been able to locate any confirmation that such authorization was provided. It is my opinion that this contract is not compliant with the requirement of (state law),” he wrote to the mayor, School Committee and City Council.

Whitsons was originally granted a one-year contract, beginning July 1, 2014, with the right to renew for four more years. Cox said state bid law would call that a five-year contract. Cox added school Business Manager Brian O’Connell has advised he will seek new bids in time for the start of schools next year. O’Connell was not working for the city when the Whitsons contract was negotiated.

Unlike the food service deal, Cox said councilors approved five-year contracts for school busing.  The city retained Coppola and NRT Bus during July 2011. Those contracts called for five-year terms with the right to renew for two more three-year periods.

Besides the food service program, councilors will take up discrimination, finances and hunting.

Question 3 on the Nov. 6 ballot could possibly repeal an existing law prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of gender identity. At the request of resident Nicholas J. Golden. the council plans to discuss a resolution in favor of the “Yes on 3 Coalition,” supporting the 2016 law.

Superintendent Margaret Marotta briefs the Council on a financial operations review provided by Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials of Hopkinton. The review covers data collected by officials from the association over a two-day period and provides advice on what school officials can do to improve the district.

Councilors Melinda E. Barrett and Joseph J. Bevilacqua invited Maria Zangari to attend the meeting in order to discuss illegal hunting concerns in the Atlanta Street area.

Tuesday’s meeting of the City Council takes place in the Theodore A. Pelosi City Council Chambers at City Hall, 4 Summer St. As a public service, 97.9 WHAV FM broadcasts the meeting live starting at 7 p.m.