City Council president calls on GoLocal to return money from no-bid contract

PROVIDENCE CITY COUNCIL President David Salvatore, left, has asked for GoLocalProv to return more than $67,000 from a month to month contract made by former Council President Louis Aponte, right, to promote public meetings. By making the contract month to month, the deal avoided a public bidding process required for projects and contracts with a value of more than $5,000. / PBN FILE PHOTO/MICHAEL SALERNO
PROVIDENCE CITY COUNCIL President David Salvatore, left, has asked for GoLocalProv to return more than $67,000 from a month to month contract made by former Council President Louis Aponte, right, to promote public meetings. By making the contract month to month, the deal avoided a public bidding process required for projects and contracts with a value of more than $5,000. / PBN FILE PHOTO/MICHAEL SALERNO

PROVIDENCE – City Council President David A. Salvatore called on GoLocalProv to return $67,500 to the city, from a deal with the council to raise awareness of city meeting notices and to inform the previous council president of pertinent news related to the city.

The deal, Salvatore said in a press release, was structured to circumvent a city ordinance that would have required a bid for the contract, by being structured month to month. The city paid GoLocalProv $3,000 per month for the service. By keeping the individual month-to-month deals below a $5,000 threshold, the city was not required to offer the job out for competitive bids.

Former City Council President Louis A. Aponte crafted and executed the deal, and it was concluded in February 2018. Aponte stepped down from his role as president in May 2017 following an indictment over misuse of campaign funds. He remains on the council still.

“On its face, this contract seems deliberately crafted to avoid the city’s competitive bidding process. The contract goes beyond any traditional media buy, requiring the media outlet to keep the city in the loop about relevant information,” said Salvatore. “When you have the city paying for a service it doesn’t need, the deal appears to be set up to skirt city purchasing requirements, and the owner of the company is a former city councilman who should know the rules. It raises serious questions as to whether this was a blatant attempt to defraud the city.”

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Salvatore also questioned a portion of the agreement that required GoLocal to keep Aponte informed of “relevant information.”

Salvatore added, “For that reason, I am calling on GoLocalProv to return the funds it received from the City and make a full accounting of what kind of ‘relevant information’ it was providing to former Council President Aponte. Was he getting tipped off to stories related to Providence City Hall? Was there an understanding he would receive positive coverage in exchange for this contract? GoLocalProv needs to explain why it agreed to some sort of consultation deal as a part of what should have been a simple advertising contract.”

GoLocalProv shot back on Tuesday in a post on its website saying that Salvatore was retaliating againt the website for its inquiries on a story that the site was writing on him regarding the Hope Point Tower and the Rhode Island Realtors Association. The post features a disparaging quote from Aponte about Salvatore.

GoLocal CEO Josh Fenton was also quoted complaining about the work that went into providing the service for the city and said he wasn’t upset the deal was over. Fenton noted that the purpose of the contract was to increase awareness of opportunities to bid on matters before the Board of Contract and Supply (which was not done for the contract GoLocal received), city meetings and other council-related public meetings.

Providence Director of Communications Emily Crowell said that the city’s law department is reviewing the contract.

Chris Bergenheim is the PBN web editor.