While this matter was tabled, Brown paid Sahl $7,000 under the disputed contract. That's why McClure said they needed to sue. Referring to an earlier memo from Solicitor Lauer, ruling that the contract is illegal, McClure warned fellow Council members, "You're free to ignore the advice of your own lawyer. I think you do that at your own peril."
Is Public Relations a Professional Service?
Under county law, all professional services must be competitively bid. But is a public relations consultant a professional service? County Solicitor Victor Scomillio says No, calling it a "nonprofessional service done in a professional way." Lauer, who recently won a case against former Executive John Stoffa over the meaning of professional services, believes county law must be clarified. "It doesn't seem to me to make a lot of sense for us to be going to court periodically to have a judge tell us, 'Yes, this was a professional service' or 'No it wasn't.'"
Glenn Geissinger, who is in the public relations business himself, was ironically placed in the position of arguing that what he does is not a professional service, observing that no state licensing or particular certification or membership in any professional organization is required. But McClure had argued that Sahl is a member of several professional organizations and may even be accredited.
Seth Vaughn suggested that McClure was advocating a witch hunt, something McClure denied. "It isn't a witch hunt," he disagreed "It's called doing my job."
Ken Kraft argued that spending $84,000 for a public relations consultant who answers to the Executive is a waste of taxpayer money. "The County Executive will have to answer to the voters for the decision of hiring a communications company," answered President Peg Ferraro. "We can think it's a terrible waste of taxpayer money, but we are voting on procedure."
"We struggle with the Administrative Code every day," said Procurement Officer Kathryn Anderson. "There'a a lot of irregularities in there. There's a lot of things left open to interpretation. We would welcome anyone's input and help in revising that Code."
Anderson also told Council that, before he awarded the no-bid contract to Sahl, Executive Brown did reach out to the Procurement Office. "We really did not feel that there was anything being done here that was not appropriate," she said. She told Council member that this contract was nothing "out of the norm."
Did Brown State Why He Needed a No-Bid Contract?
Lauer had another problem with the contract. No-bid contracts for non-professional services are permitted by County law. But the Executive must first issue an Executive Order, explaining why competitive negotiation would be impractical or imprudent. That never happened. The Orders that Brown signed, after the fact, still failed to provide a satisfactory explanation, according to Lauer. Anderson acknowledged, in response to questions from McClure, that an Executive Order is needed before the contract is executed, and failure to do so is a "defective process."
McClure Hints at Looming Lawsuit
Before the vote, McClure hinted that, if Council failed to act on their own, a lawsuit might be filed anyway, though he did not say from where. "I can promise you the lawsuit won't be good, if in fact one happens, and if in fact we don't control it. ... If we allow someone else to do that, we have failed."
If such a lawsuit is filed, it won't be by Council.