No Bid No Problem
By day, Richard Aubin Jr. is the chief mechanic at his family's car repair business in Central Falls. But on the first Monday night of every month he trades his overalls for a suit - and a seat - as a councilman inside City Hall. That has not stopped him having a no-bid contract with the Police Department to service its vehicles. This week, Jim Hummel goes one-on-one with the councilman and takes us inside the numbers to see how much Aubin's family business has received from the city.
Go by Quality Auto Repair in Central Falls any weekday and you're likely to find Richie Aubin working at his family's business. And, chances are, you might even see Aubin - who is the chief mechanic - with his head under the hood of a Central Falls police cruiser.
That's the same Richie Aubin who takes his seat on the first Monday of every month as a member of the Central Falls City Council, a position he's held the last three years.
The Hummel Report has learned that Quality Auto, which is owned by the councilman's father, Richard Aubin Sr., has a no-bid agreement with the police department to service its cruisers. It's an agreement that has earned the company more than $100,000 over the past five years.
We've also learned that Richard Aubin Sr. has been a regular contributor to Mayor Charles Moreau's campaign over those same five years.
Hummel: ``Hi, Jim Hummel, how are you? I haven't introduced myself formally.''
We caught up with Aubin after a recent council meeting to ask him about the arrangement.
Hummel: `` Your family runs Quality Auto Body?''
Aubin: `` Quality Auto Repair, yes sir.''
Hummel: ``And you repair police cars, is that right?''
Aubin: `` Yeah, I am one of four establishments in the city who repair police cars.''
Hummel: ``Did that go out to bid, at all?''
Aubin: ``No it didn't.''
Hummel: ``Do you think maybe it should have ?''
Aubin: ``It hasn't for the last, over 20 years.''
Hummel: ``But you haven't been a city councilman for 20 years have you?''
Aubin: `` No I haven't.''
In fact Aubin won his Ward 2 seat in a special election three years ago, replacing a councilman who had moved out of state. That same year the city business at Quality Auto increased from $20,000 to more than $30,000 - the most amount of business it did in any one year over the last five.
Hummel: ``The issue is not whether your family should be getting the business. It's your sitting as a city councilman and the police department paying your family's business. Do you see any conflict of interest there?''
Aubin: ``No, because they take the police cars to different shops. For example, King's, Lemyre's.''
Hummel: ``But you're financially benefitting from the city and you're on the city council.''
Aubin: `` Yeah.''
Hummel: ``That's not a problem?''
Aubin: ``I'm not..the family business is. I am not the owner of it.''
Hummel: `` You're paid by (the business)?''
Aubin: `` Yes, my salary comes from, I get a paycheck, yes I do.''
Police Chief Joseph Moran told us he tries to keep the repair and maintenance business in Central Falls and gave us a list of the vendors who provided services to the department since 2005. At $105,000 Quality Auto got the lion's share of the work, more than double its next closest competitor, Lemyre's on Broad Street, which took in $45,000.
And, we found, the vendor with the third-highest amount of business behind Quality and Lemyre's, was Goodyear, which isn't even in Central Falls, but on Broadway in Pawtucket. It took in $12,000 over the past five years.
All-in-all, the figures the chief gave us show that Quality made more over the past five years than the other 25 vendors...combined.
Hummel: ``A city councilman has a business he benefits from and it's a no bid contract. And you don't...''
Aubin: ``It's been like that for 20 years. I can remember doing the oil changes when...''
Hummel: ``But you've been a councilman for how long?''
Aubin: ``Almost seven years. No, wait...3 1/2 years.''
Hummel: ``In any period of time during that time has anybody questioned you about that?''
Aubin: `` No they haven't.''
Hummel: ``I'm the first one to ask you that question?''
Aubin: ``Actually you're the second one to ask me that question.''
Hummel: `` Who else has asked you that?''
Aubin: ``The state police asked me that question.''
Hummel: ``And when was that?''
Aubin: `` Ah, day before yesterday.''
Hummel: ``And you gave them the same answer.''
Aubin: `` The cars are brought to different shops in the city. Like I said, it's dispersed amongst us all.''
Poulin: ``A city councilman should not be doing business with the city.''
Edna Poulin is a former town finance director, was the state Director of Labor under Governor Almond in the mid-1990s and lives in Aubin's ward. The arrangement bothers her.
Poulin: ``Now he'll tell you his father owns the business. But he's the manager of the business. How can you be impartial when you're doing business with the city? And depending on the mayor to send those cars over there, how can you vote against something the mayor wants, because you're going to lose business for your father. It's not a good practice - it's not a good practice in this city or anywhere.''
Hummel: ``And now it's one more thing the state police have added to a growing list of issues to investigate here in the city. In Central Falls, Jim Hummel, for The Hummel Report.''