Mayor responds to comments that city favors firm that employs his son

By Barbara Tetreault
BERLIN -- Angered by comments that the city favors HEB Engineering because his son works for the firm, Mayor Paul Grenier asked City Manager James Wheeler to explain the city’s selection process for engineering consultants at Monday’s council work session.
Grenier said he wanted the public to hear the process Berlin uses and understand that HEB competes for projects on the same footing as any other firm.
Wheeler said the city has long followed what is known as a Qualifications-Based Selection process, which is required for all federal projects and used by the state as well.
Under the process, the city prepares a preliminary scope of services for a project and advertises for firms to submit letters of qualifications. A committee reviews the letters submitted. Wheeler said the committee is generally made up of three to five city staffers, and frequently includes the public works director, city planner, and city manager. It does not include the mayor or council.
Depending on the number of letters received, committee selects three to five firms for interviews. Each committee member individually ranks the various firms using a specific set of criteria. The individual scores are totaled and the highest-ranking firm is then asked to prepare a detailed scope of service and negotiate the terms of a contract including the fee. If the two parties cannot agree on a contract, the city moves to the firm with the next highest ranking.
For the Route 16 project, Wheeler said five firms were interviewed and HEB came out on top. But he said HEB was not selected to design the new Recreation Building – that project went to CMA Engineers out of Portsmouth.
Wheeler said he was not city manager when the city awarded the engineering contract for the Hutchins Street project, which went to HEB Engineering. But he noted the majority of the funding for that project was federal, which requires an additional process verifying that all federal requirements have been met.
In a statement read after Wheeler’s presentation, Grenier said he took exception to his opponent Rich Mattos going after his son. He said Mattos never bothered to contact the city manager or N.H. Department of Transportation to inquire about the selection process.
The mayor noted HEB Engineers, which is headquartered in North Conway, has an excellent reputation and have five employees living in the Berlin-Gorham area. He said employees of the firm volunteer hundreds of hours to the local communities, serving on various boards and committees.
“In other words, they are part of our city and have earned the projects they were awarded ... the scoring process works as it is designed to, despite comments from the ill informed,” he concluded.