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Docs: Ex-official called city rules ‘antiquated’ while pushing lease deal

Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Providence official who resigned last week amid a federal inquiry referred to procurement rules as “antiquated” as he pushed a multimillion-dollar lease deal, according to emails and messages obtained by Target 12.

Brian Hull, the city’s former director of economic opportunity and head of the federally funded Workforce Solutions of Providence/Cranston program, resigned on Friday. It had been several months since he was placed on leave, and then reinstated, amid questions about the lease deal he had negotiated before putting it out to bid.

Hull had signed a letter of intent in October for the 10-year, $2.5 million lease deal to relocate the Workforce Solutions “one-stop” job center from 1 Reservoir Ave. to a building at 530 Broadway.

Both the city and the state require projects over $5,000 to go out to a public competitive bidding process. The project went out to bid in December, two months after Hull agreed to lease the Broadway building.

In emails and messages from an internal city messaging program obtained by Target 12, Hull tells city staffers on Nov. 3 that he’s identified a new space for the jobs program after an “exhaustive search,” calling it “SUPER urgent” to get the lease approved because he wanted to move into the building Jan. 1.

“I’m nervous that the whole antiquated ‘procurement issue’ thing is going to make this much more difficult than it needs to be,” Hull wrote in a message that went to several staffers.

After some back and forth, associate purchasing director Molly Hannon flagged the issue: “I also have some concerns that this process of identifying a space should have gone formally through the RFP process, and that process could have involved community engagement.”

The project ultimately went out to bid in December, and the owner of 530 Broadway was the sole bidder.

The city yanked the lease, however, after the City Council Finance Committee raised questions about the lease being negotiated before the Request for Proposals (RFP) was publicized for a bidding process.

Dozens of pages of more recent internal messages between city staffers and Hull are all redacted, including in late January and early February when the Finance Committee was questioning the deal and when Hull was placed on leave.

He was allowed to return to work in February after 17 days, and continued in his role until he resigned on Friday.

Attempts to reach Hull for comment about the situation have been unsuccessful.

Council Finance Chairman John Igliozzi said he was contacted several weeks ago by a special agent in the racketeering and fraud unit of the Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General. He said he sat for an in-person interview with him and another agent, and provided documents his committee had reviewed regarding the lease deal.

Mayor Jorge Elorza’s press secretary, Victor Morente, also confirmed a city employee met with the Department of Labor as part of the federal review.

The Providence/Cranston Workforce Solutions program that Hull was leading receives about $3 million per year in federal money from the U.S. Labor Department through the Workforce Innovation & Opportunity Act (WIOA), which aims to help young people and those with “significant barriers to employment” get high-quality jobs.

“They negotiated this thing months in advance before it was put out to bid,” Igliozzi said. “You cannot do those kinds of things with federal dollars.”

Asked about the scope of the federal inquiry, a spokesperson for the inspector general’s office said they do not confirm or deny ongoing investigations.

Steph Machado (smachado@wpri.com) covers Providence, politics and more for WPRI 12. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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