Stockton may lose pact for Sprint cell tower

Sprint refuses to sign altered contract.

By: Carl Reader
   STOCKTON — Sprint has disconnected the line to Borough Council.
   After a confusing episode with the telecommunications giant, Stockton appears not to have a contract for a cell phone tower.
   The council had accepted a bid by Sprint at its Jan. 28 meeting to erect the tower, which the council believed constituted a contract, but Sprint backed out after borough attorney Robert DeChellis evidently modified the original contract and sent it to Sprint, apparently without the council’s approval.
   In a discussion to determine exactly what happened, the council at its meeting Monday attempted to work through the complexities of the situation and decide what to do next about it.
   "They’ll probably bid again," Borough Clerk Kim Franklin said, after reporting Mr. DeChellis had met with Sprint April 5.
   The council disagreed.
   "Sprint has been withdrawing bids not only from us, but from a lot of others," Councilman Chris Smith said.
   "They’re all going down the toilet," Sewer and Water Supervisor Robert Ent said.
   Mr. Smith contended Sprint was overextended, which put it in a difficult position with its business. The council had made a bid, and Sprint accepted. That, by state law, supposedly constitutes a contract, according to the council.
   Councilwoman Joan Haberle said Mr. DeChellis added words to the original contract. When Sprint got the second edition of the document, it would not sign it.
   "Did council authorize our attorney to change that contract?" Mrs. Haberle asked.
   She said it did not. She added if Sprint did not sign the original contract, the council could send it to the state Board of Public Utilities, and the company might never be bonded again. If a vender bids on a contract, that process demands the vendor sign the contract should it win the bid, according to Mrs. Haberle. Vendors put up a bond of $20,000, she said, to assure they do sign if they win.
   "I think we should go ahead and contact the Board of Utilities," Mr. Smith said.
   But then the council faced the complications apparently caused by Mr. DeChellis’ changes to the original contract. The council also faced up to the fact it did not know what changes Mr. DeChellis had made and would be going to the Board of Utilities blind. Councilman Andrew Giannattasio said he would call Mr. DeChellis to find out what the changes were.
   "He cost us a $200,000 contract," Mrs. Haberle opined.
   Mr. Giannattasio disagreed.
   "He didn’t cost us anything," he said. "We’re as guilty as he is by not taking control."
   Mr. Giannattasio said he had talked to a lawyer, and the lawyer had told him the original contract was still good. Mr. DeChellis had an explanation as to why he added several things to that original contract.
   ‘When we asked him that several weeks ago, his answer to us was that it was standard operating procedure," Mr. Giannattasio said.
   Mr. Giannattasio added he thought the situation with Sprint "would have come to this" anyway since Sprint was changing its policy all across the region.
   "I think his (Mr. DeChellis’) additions added another layer of complications," Mr. Giannattasio said.
   While Sprint might be obligated to go forward and sign the original contract, it is not obligated to sign the second one, according to resident Charles Soriero, who also is purchasing agent for Hunterdon County. He said he deals with situations like this one for a living. He explained Sprint can back out of the second contract, but the first contract is binding.
   "If he (Mr. DeChellis) altered it (the contract), the vendor can come back and say forget it," Mr. Soriero said.
   Mayor Gigi Celli said he wanted to see the changes Mr. DeChellis apparently made. Councilman Paul Steffanelli said the council should get a copy of the changes and then deal with the situation.
   "If they (Sprint) don’t endorse it, what happens?" Mr. Giannattasio asked.
   Mr. Soriero explained if it is the original contract Sprint doesn’t endorse, then the company is in breach of contract. If it is modified, Sprint is not.
   "They have the right to get out of it," Mr. Soriero said.
   Mr. Giannattasio pointed out the changes Mr. DeChellis made are invalid since council did not make or approve them. Mr. Soriero said Sprint could be in breach of the original contract.
   The council will look into the changes made to the original contract, find out all the facts about the legalities of the issue and decide what to do about the situation it in the future.
   Mr. DeChellis did not immediately return phone calls.