Purvis bid approved, Merolla argues city owns software
Controversy concerning the rights to software for the city’s fire and rescue department created by Warwick Firefighter Henrik Dunleavy more than 10 years ago continues, as Ward 9 Councilman Steve Merolla maintains Dunleavy never had the authority to sell it.
In an interview with the Warwick Beacon in 2011, Dunleavy, who was exonerated after Rhode Island State Police conducted an investigation per the request of the council, said he hoped to put the situation behind him.
Fire Chief Edmund Armstrong also noted during a brief phone interview last week that Dunleavy didn’t do anything inappropriate.
“The State Police found no wrongdoing,” he said.
But that didn’t stop Merolla from questioning the situation.
While Dunleavy said he began writing the software on his own time in 1997, three years before the Warwick Fire Department (WFD) employed him, Merolla believes it’s in the city’s best interest to hire an intellectual property lawyer to regain Warwick’s right to the program because Dunleavy created the software with a $100,000 grant awarded to the city from the state.
“If it is our property, not only would we have the right to use it for free, we would have the rights to all the profits they made because they never had the right to purchase it in the first place,” Merolla said. “I think they’d be wise to just give us the software and just walk away. We should enforce our rights.”
Before joining the WFD, Dunleavy and two friends established the software company ACK Inc. In 2004, they sold it to Purvis Systems Inc., a technology and communications business based out of Middletown that specializes in providing products and services to public safety agencies.
Dunleavy made a verbal agreement with Purvis, ensuring the city would be able to use the software for five years at no cost. While that deal was honored, it’s now costing the city $29,101 per year.
“I don’t begrudge him for making money, but when you tell us you’re going to do it on our time with a $100,000 grant and that we’re going to get it for free, keep your word,” Merolla said.
Merolla is also frustrated with the way the WFD handled the bid last week. According to the code of ordinances, 56-6 allows for purchases under emergency basis or unique circumstances, which require six votes. The WFD brought the 56-6 bid to the council during the June 10 meeting because Purvis is a sole source provider, as they are the only company that can maintain their own software.
When the bid failed to get enough support on a 5-4 vote, with Merolla, Ward 4 Councilman Joseph Solomon, Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur and Ward 7 Councilman Charles “C.J.” Donovan voting in opposition, the WFD went out to bid. This act, said Merolla, changes the status of the bid.
“So, it wouldn’t be a 56-6, even though they knew that nobody else would bid on the contract because in a special situation like that you have to have six votes on a 56-6,” Merolla told a Beacon reporter. “They came back and said, ‘It’s no longer a special circumstance. We only need five votes.’ They circumvented everything they told us when they initially brought it before us.”
At last week’s meeting, Merolla said, “It cannot go out to bid. You can put a duck suit on it and call it something else, but it’s not. My suggestion is that we follow our own rules.”
“I’m not going to say it was done with malice; maybe it was a mistake,” Solomon said. “However, as this stands before us this evening, it is not proper.”
Armstrong told them the WFD wasn’t attempting to fool anyone.
Despite Merolla’s argument, the council voted in favor of awarding the bid to Purvis 5-3, with Merolla, Solomon and Ladouceur in opposition. Donovan was not in attendance. The bid is a two-year contract for $58,202, running from Oct. 1, 2013 to Sept. 30, 2015.
The software is used in rescues in order for EMS staffers to quickly find the address of their destination, ensuring they arrive to scenes in a timely manner. It is also used to help shorten the process of computing payroll.