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Friday, March 07, 2014

No-Bid Contract Repeal Tabled by NorCo GOP

Executive John Brown's no-bid contracts under review
If the four Democrats and five Republicans on Northampton County Council agree on anything, it's that the Administrative Code is due for a serious overhaul. But both sides disagreed sharply, at their March 6 meeting, over whether Executive John Brown had the authority to award a $84,000 no-bid, public relations contract to Bethlehem's Sahl Communications. Lamont McClure introduced a resolution to repeal it. But in a vote that went strictly along party lines, it was tabled.

In addition to being a battle between Democrats and Republicans, this dispute also pitted two County Attorneys against each other.

Phil Lauer, who represents Council, advised that the no-bid contract was unlawful. He noted that the Administrative Code requires that contracts for professional services be competitively bid. He added that, even when a no-bid contract is permitted, an Executive Order must be issued before it is awarded, explaining why competitive bidding would be impractical. That never occurred.

Vic Scomillio, who represents the Executive, argued just as effectively that the no-bid contract is not only legal, but is just one of many similar contracts awarded throughout the years by previous administrations. He disputed that media firm Sahl Communications provides "professional services", which he called a "term of art" used in the Administrative Code to refer to services that require specialized skill or an "extended course of specialized study." He acknowledged that the Executive Order issued in conjunction with this contract failed to explain why bidding would be impractical, but assured Council that the Order had been "updated".

No member of Council had seen the updated Order, so Scomillio provided his own copy to Lauer, stating that a memo had gone out to Council. "Why they weren't received, I'm not sure," said Scomillio.

"They went out at 4:48 pm", said Controller Steve Barron from his seat in the audience, which is after the 4:30 pm closing time in Northampton County.

After making a cursory review, Lauer concluded the language may be inadequate. "I don't believe the Executive orders that you've given me state a reason, although they do by implication." He also noted the order must be issued before the contract is awarded.

McClure scoffed at the argument that Sahl Communications is not providing "professional services."

"In order to award this $84,000 one year contract to Sahl Communications for public relations, which the Administration wants to argue isn't a professional service, you have to also explain why Sahl Communications is the only one who can offer this nonprofessional service as a sole provider. And I would suggest to you it can't be done in the context of twisting yourself into that particular pretzel."

McClure argued that whether Council sues is immaterial because a citizen could file suit as well.

Mat Benol moved to table the matter until the next meeting, which passed along party lines. Because the motion to table is only until the next meeting, Council will visit the Executive's authority to award no-bid contracts again in two weeks.

After the meeting, a disgusted Ken Kraft stated, "The Republican Party voted tonight to allow the County Executive to spend $84,000 on a public relations firm that's not professional." But one of those Republicans, Glenn Geissinger, had a different take. "[W]e voted to table a resolution that called into question the legal rights of the Executive under the Administrative Code to execute a certain classification of contract."

(Blogger's Note: Updated 11:10 am.)


Anonymous said...

Sounds like a rough start is just getting rougher. What happens when Brown and the council start having to deal with "real" county problems.

Doesn't portend well for the future Bernie.

I am now wishing more than ever a few of those veteran, experienced and level headed people that ran for county council would have been elected.

Anonymous said...

The blind leading the blind.

Anonymous said...

Didn't we see this drama a little while ago play out in macungie borough...new elected duck dynasty mayor with and ax to grind vs. a power hungry chief of police with a napoleon complex?

Anonymous said...

Don't be fooled. This isn't the GOP spending $84,000.00 it is the GOP spending $336,000.00 for a consultant once it is renewed every year. This is another attempt to not have to have councils approval for something. Same with the $24,000.00 3 month consultant, once renewed we have a consultant for $96,000.00 a year with no council oversight and no following the County Code for purchasing. Is anybody watching the Hen House on County Council?

Anonymous said...

Bernie is this consultant doing a job that could be done by hiring someone for this position? If Brown is hiring outside instead of filling positions what's the beef? I am not sure about this so fill me in.
A consultant would be far cheaper in the long run if this is the case.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, As a taxpayer i'm ver concerned about john browns tactics , what recourse as taxpayers if any do we have ? After last nights council meeting it doesn't appear as though he is willing to work with them and could careless what the public thinks.I will admit I voted for him because he did reach out at election time ,Callahan did not.. it surely is quickly becoming a vote I deeply regret.. His fragrantly spending the taxpayers money on frivolous thing outrages me.If you know what can be done about any of this Please let us know!

Anonymous said...

You are right when you state that the "administrative code" should be overhauled, but, not for the reasons the Republicans want to overhaul the Code. The Code should be looked at page by page adressing all aspects of the government. for example, the "prison commssion" was abiolished and yet the "code" makes repeated mention of the "prison Commission". I saw a section that mentions the "Gracedale advisory board", the "Northampton County Parks Board", and the list continues. Changing the code is a function of County Council and the proper way to handle this issue is to have the County Council Committees be assigned their respective sections of the "code" and address the inequities of the code. The "legal" committee shouldl address all the courts sections, the "personnel" committee" should address all the hiring and employee issues, the Intergovernmental affairs Committee should Address all the issues that pertain to the community and all the Boards and authorities, the finance committee should address all the issues as they pertain to financial accountability within the county. Bring in the department heads of each "agency" and ask them what the problem areas are of the code and what changes they need to make their job more accountable and easier to perform. By doing this, not only do you educate the new members of County Council how things are supposed to function, you educate them about existing "State and Federal Laws". Remember, Federal laws dictate to the states what authority they have. State laws dictate to the municipalities (Counties) what authority they have and the local governments can make their laws as long as they don't preempt State and Federal Law.
The Home Rule Charter mandates what has to be included in the "Administrative Code", sooooo you should also have a bi-partisan committee look at the charter and see what changes are needed there.
The Council President should be doing this. The Council serves as a check to the administration. The administration should have imput but should not be in charge of addressing the Charter and Administrative Code changes.

Anonymous said...

The republicans can't do anything right and therefore should not have anything to say.

Well the left on all levels have all the answers. We are in such great shape thanks to them.

Give me a freakin break......

We have different ideas and that the way it is...

You win some and you do LOSE some.

How do some of get along with anyone except the rigid left? Even family???? Parents, grandparents?

Bernie O'Hare said...

9:01, Press relations have typically been part of the work done by a Director of Admin. It is not worth $84k. But that's an argument for another day. My real problem here is the no-bid contract, Even if you accept the option that no competitive bidding was required (which I don't), the Exec has to issue an order BEFORE he issues the contract, stating why. That was not done and I consider it a fatal defect.

No-bid contracts should be rare, while Brown is handing them out like candy.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Bernie, As a taxpayer i'm ver concerned about john browns tactics , what recourse as taxpayers if any do we have ?"

There is recourse. First, the matter is not off the table. It has only been tabled until the next meeting. Second, if Council fails, a citizen can sue, at least according to some members of Council and some attorneys. I question standing.

Bernie O'Hare said...

9:46, Changes in the Admin Code and HRC have been neglected for years, mostly bc Lamont McClure failed to convene a single meeting of his judicial committee as chair. Now Mat Benol is in charge, and he really should have met already. I really question whether Benol, a newcomer, has any idea what problems exist. That is not intended as an insult. It takes time.

I believe Brown and Council should form a committee of people who understand the Charter and Admin Code, to pour over it, detail by detail, and propose changes. I would volunteer. Jerry Seyfried should be on it. The Bar should delegate an attorney or two. The DA should be invited. So should the court. I would not ask a member of the bench hearing cases at the county level, but would ask a senior judge or Superior Court judge.

Anonymous said...

sounds like a sensible solution...but will they do it...

Lighthouse said...

When the Mayor of Bangor was knocking on doors for County Exec in Bethlehem Township the day his town was dealing with flash floods, I questioned what kind of hands-on leadership he would have.

Brown campaigned saying, "I have demonstrated leadership abilities ... the skills I have acquired over 30 years of leading multiple businesses domestically and globally through a myriad of challenges, including helping turn around struggling operations, are essential to be successful as the county executive." So far, the perception he creates is that he is outsourcing county executive duties, rather than leading it. If there is a big picture plan, he hasn't communicated it to public.

Anonymous said...

The problem can be fixed very easily. Fire Scumillio for his bad advise and covering the ass of Brown Who can NOT do his job as elected. Seems the County Solicitor is dishing out the Bullshit as well.

Anonymous said...

McClure's reductio ad absurdem of mini-solicitor's argument that the contract did not involve a "professional service" hit it on the head. Add the lack of any true need and cost of this mundane service and you have yet another Brown captain of industry moment for the scrspbook