After an anonymous tip to an ethics hot line that no-bid contracts were being awarded to a graphics and printing firm with ties to a vice president, Boston University officials have banned campus departments from hiring the company.
Crocker & Company of Hamilton has done work for at least nine BU units in the past, according to the company's website. Its principal, Peter Crocker, is the son-in-law of Christopher Reaske, who as BU's vice president for development and alumni relations is the university's top fund-raiser.
An investigation determined that contracts in development and alumni relations were awarded to Crocker & Company in the past year without going through the bidding process required by a new, stricter set of regulations that took effect July 2004, according to Stephen Burgay, vice president for communications.
The investigation, which concluded late last month, did not find that Reaske, who is about to retire after 10 years on the job, did anything wrong, Burgay said.
''There is no evidence that Chris was involved in driving people to this particular vendor once these guidelines were in effect," Burgay said.
He said lower-level staff members in Reaske's department had not been following the guidelines consistently. No one faces any disciplinary action, Burgay said, but the university will work closely with the development and alumni relations department ''to make sure they better understand the guidelines and apply them consistently and persistently."
The new regulations were designed to prevent even the appearance of a conflict of interest, Burgay said, so because there is a ''question mark" about the use of Crocker & Company, the firm will be removed indefinitely from BU's list of approved vendors. That decision was made late last month.
''It's an important signal to send and certainly is part of our attempt to draw people's attention to the policies in place," he said.
Reaske did not return phone calls last week, and Crocker declined to comment.
After a failed presidential search in 2003 highlighted problems with university governance, BU trustees tightened the university's ethics policies.
According to the July 2004 regulations on bidding, contracts must go out for competitive bidding among a list of preapproved vendors, and the bids must be reviewed by an outside department, Burgay said.
BU also created an ethics hot line, through which people could leave anonymous phone or electronic messages about improper conduct. The hot line became operational in June, and the complaint about Crocker & Company was made in mid-July, Burgay said.
All complaints are reviewed unless they are demonstrably absurd, Burgay said. The tip about Crocker & Company triggered an investigation by the university's general counsel's office and the office of financial affairs and internal audit.
Similar concerns about no-bid contracts were raised last fall at the BU-owned radio station WBUR. The station did business with New Hampshire-based Puritan Press while then-general manager Jane Christo's stepson worked for the company. A university investigation into WBUR found that station policies permitted the awarding of no-bid contracts, but declared the practice would be discontinued.
In June 2004, Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam took note of the family connection between Reaske and Crocker. The column quoted a Reaske testimonial on Crocker's website, saying, ''You clearly are always willing to go above and beyond 'the call of duty' to see that a job is done to the highest standards in a timely fashion."
That quote has been removed, but among 39 clients listed are at least nine BU units, including the School of Medicine, the College of Engineering, the School of Social Work, and WBUR. The website depicts five different brochures, newsletters, and direct mailings designed for the office of development and alumni relations, which Reaske heads.
In an e-mail dated July 7, 2004, Reaske wrote that in the wake of the Globe column, BU's interim president, Aram V. Chobanian, ''has asked that to avoid any potential conflict of interest that there be someone outside my own report areas to make determinations on awarding" design work.
''Although this relationship has been fully disclosed consistently, it is important now to be sure to remove any potential conflict. I welcome a new modus operandi and I am sure that it will work out so that everyone feels comfortable," Reaske continued in the e-mail, which was obtained by the Globe last week. ''I am sure Peter wil [sic] be comfortable to continue his usual practice here and elsewhere of bidding on design projects competitively."
BU plans to examine all contracts it currently has with Crocker & Company to make sure the price and quality of work is acceptable, Burgay said.
''They have done a good amount of work for the university over the years, and by and large, they received fairly good reviews," he said. ''Historically, we are finding they are fairly priced, and we're not getting complaints about quality from a whole lot of people."
Reaske announced last fall that he would retire as of July 31, 2005. Though that date has passed, he has not left BU. Burgay said Reaske had planned all along to help with the presidential transition. President Robert A. Brown began work Sept. 1.
Last fall, Reaske said in an e-mail to the Globe that he wanted the new president, who had not been appointed, to be able to choose his or her top fund-raiser, since ''it is a very close and intense working relationship." He noted that during his time on the job, gifts to BU rose from $35 million a year to $100 million a year.
Reaske also said that he wanted to spend more time with family, but that he would be willing to serve as a consultant to the university in the future.
Marcella Bombardieri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.