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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Northampton County Council Makes a $1.5 Million Boo Boo

Last Friday, Northampton County Fiscal Affairs boss Vic Mazziotti spent much of his day wandering aimlessly through the halls, mouth ajar. Every now and then, he'd mumble, "I just don't believe it."

Vic was in shock, and understandably so, over what had happened during the previous night's council meeting. So was Al Jordan, the county's contracted computer guru, and direct beneficiary of a $1.5 million county council blunder.

Let me tell you the story.

ACS is the county's "information technology" vendor. That's where Al Jordan works. They keep the computers up and running. But this outside contract is up at the end of the year, so the county sought new proposals from ACS and two other qualified vendors, CAI and CMC. Here's how the bids come down:
ACS - $10,002,873;
CMC - $8,747,686; and
CAI - $8,503,100
ACS was high bidder by $1.5 million.

Low bidders CAI and CMC had some minor errors with their proposals. CAI failed to acknowledge two addendums. CMC forgot to sign its proposal. But county lawyers ruled these were serious enough to require rejection of those bids. Mazziotti was also told he was unable legally to negotiate with the only successful bidder, ACS, for a reduced cost.

So the county could either award a new IT contract to ACS for $10 million, or reject all bids and start all over. OurAdministrative Code allows county council to do that when "it is in the best interest of the County."

Now here's where things get really goofy. At last Thursday's council meeting, Vic asked council to kill the bid. He explained that, now that every one knows each other's numbers, the new bids would be lower. That would benefit taxpayers. He even assured council the three bidders were willing to try again. No nasty lawsuits.

But council was having none of it. Why are so many bids being rejected? Why do we make things so hard for those poor little vendors?

Lamont McClure: "Is there anyone here who's dissatisfied with ACS?" (That's not the point, Lamont. It's time for a new contract, and the county has to get the best bang for its buck).

Charles Dertinger: "I'm very familiar with the bidding process and know how it feels to do everything right and be rejected." (Is there anything at which Charles Dertinger is not an expert?)

Ann McHale: "I just feel this is unfair to bidders, who get penalized when they do everything right." (Uh, Ann, you represent the taxpayers, not bidders. What about them?)

By a shocking seven to one vote, county council refused to reject ACS's lone $10 million bid, knowing damn well they just blew off at least a $1.5 million savings to the taxpayer. Now, rejected bidders are considering filing formal protests, which will only cost the county even more.

The lone member of county council with the sense to start the bidding over? Mike "God Loves business" Dowd? Nope. John "no new taxes" Cusick? Nah.

It was Council Prez Wayne Grube, standing alone. Now he knows how Angle feels. The rest must think they work for ACS. They don't. They work for the taxpayers of Northampton County.

And where was Ron Angle, who would have scremed about this $1.5 million boo boo? Currently in talk radio rehab, Ron missed last Thursday's council meeting. I broke the news to Ron in his padded cell. He's now undergoing electroshock therapy, and his stay has been extended by therapist Jolly Joe Timmer for another week.

Things could be worse. Angle could be a county employee, watching council flush $1.5 million down the drain. That money could help pay their salaries or keep taxes down.
Update - Angle Threatens to Sue! I told you Angle went ballistic when I broke the news last night about council's refusal to reject the bids. Although he was on vacation, he had asked to participate in the meeting via speakerphone. That didn't happen. He's furious that council would throw away $1.5 million, and believes they both abused their discretion, violated their fiduciary responsibilty to taxpayers, and deprived slate belt citizens of representation on council. He intends to sue unless the Stoffa administration re-submits the resolution to reject all bids and starts the process over.


Blah Society said...

It's one thing to not want to save taxpayer money - it's surprising, however, to see that they won't be using that could-be extra money to pay themselves. What is Council thinking!?

Did Angle really miss the meeting? It would have been interesting to know his opinions about this and where he stands. Did he hurt anyone yet? Lol!

Anonymous said...

I think Angle is on his Island paradise in the Carribean. He wears a straw hat and rides his horse as he oversees the workers on his sugar plantation. I heard he has one little fellow run next to the horse holding an ashtray for his cigar ashes.

Bernie O'Hare said...


You had to bring that up. Usually, I'm that fellow. When Angle's not riding his horse, I get to clean his toilets. But he stiffed me this year for Joe Long. Go figure.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Ah the wonderful "good government" world of Stoffaland....they dont even believe in taking the lowest bid. Lehigh County spends 1/2 of what Norco does but this is the brainchild of Pete Houck and his wife who worked part-time for the original vendor who was gobbled up by these high bidders...

Btw, all taxpayers should have the health care County employees get. Up to 1998 they paid $1 for prescriptions 6x what seniors on PACE paid at that time.

Anonymous said...

Lamont Noclue has the audacity to ask who's dissatisfied with ACS? I am! I am! They're gouging taxpayers with Lamont Noclue's assistance.

It's just another day for the Reibman-Stoffa administration. There was no transition a year and a half ago, just more three-card Monte from the gang that's been in charge for a long time - and figures to stay in charge for the foreseeable future.

This council wastes money as if it's not theirs ... oh yeah ... it's not.

Anonymous said...

On policy there are big differences between Reibman and "nothing to do but fill the chair" Stoffa.

U may be right about one thing: fear of taking on employees and the courts. Again, we should all be so lucky as to have a one percent copayment ooooh it is now 1.5 and $8 prescriptions with dental care....can u imagine if they had to pay what we working stiffs do....

Anonymous said...

Reibman's gang at least took the lowest bids. Stoffa is a throwback to the no-bid era pre-Reibman

Anonymous said...


Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 12:01 & 1:22,

Perhaps I was unclear in my original post. But let me be clear now.

The Stoffa administration was trying to get the best deal for the taxpayers. Because of some paperwork problems, the county only had one bid it could legally conside. Rather than accept this bid, which happened to be the highest, county council was asked to reject them all. This would have permitted all three vendors to submit new bids. There would be lower prices, which would result in savings to the taxpayer. The Stoffa administration was trying to do the right thing.

But by a seven to one vote, county council refused to reject the bids so the county can start over. This has already resulted in a protest from one of the vendors, and has put the county in a position where it may have no choice but to pay $1.5 million more for IT services than was necessary.

The blame for this bizarre turn of events lies not with Stoffa, but the seven members of council who were out to screw the low bidders. These include McClure, Dertinger, Neiper, McHale, Branco, Cusick & Dowd.

Now why did 5 of 6 Dems on council do this? One rumor I'm hearing is that one of these low vendors has a reputation for contributing heavily to Republicans. Frankly, I don't believe it. They are just a mean-spirited bunch who don't understand good government.

And the attempt to blame this folly on Stoffa is just partisan rhetoric.

Anonymous said...

Interesting histrionics from County employees who need to cyber shout when they pay 1.5% for 100% health care coverage; choose any doctor they like without referal; get the best cancer care if they want--Sloan Kettering; dental care; and prescriptions for 8 bucks the same my mom who lives on social security pays....perhaps the politicians are ignorant but can u imagine if they tried to make employees pay what the rest of us working stiffs pay?

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 2:12,

County employees deserve the best possible health care, especially in light of the meager wages paid to them and the large number of courthouse employees who became ill during the recent construction.

We all deserve the best possible health care. It's criminal that so many are forced to go without.

river said...

If those County council members who voted for that don't know what 1.5 Million Dollars is, thay don't belong there. Even if Angle voted it still would have been 8 to 2 in favor of yet more bureaucratic WASTE thats wreaking every stage of Local, State, and Federal government. Raise Taxes for what?? More of waste like this???

Anonymous said...

This fiasco was a team effort. The Stoffa-Nostra crowd throws a last minute curve at the group saying re-bid it's OK no will sue, they promised REALLY. How did they promise with legal documents othertwise it was another screwup by the Stoffanistas'. The same Charter rules you religiously pushed onto the Reibman crowd you ignore for Stoffa. This is similar to the Tax increase fiasco which will cost taxpayers longterm for land that will be long gone in twenty years. Herr Stoffa pulled a fast one on a dullard Council on that one. Last minute bait and switch. You use to prasie Council for doing similar things during the Reibman tenure. They said enough is enough. Get it right. You and run,Lisa,run should share the Koolaid.

Anonymous said...


As you know, ACS is the contractor that its former employees Jeff Britland and Karen Brandau were fired, without justifiable cause, for blowing the whistle on their employer's cover-up of the hacking of the county's computers.

Karen's suit was dismissed on procedural grounds, such as untimely filing, and the county settled Britland's federal lawsuit.

As you know, County Controller John Schimmel and Fiscal Affairs Director Jean Mateff - now retired from that position and currently an executive with the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) - were also implicated in the cover-up.

District Attorney John Morganelli might have also been implicated since Schimmel, according to his e-mails, notified Morganelli of the hacking, a violation of federal law.

Meanwhile, Britland has cut off all communications with me, presumably because he is still terrified of the county - and his former employer, ACS - or is prohibited by the terms of the settlement.

Bernie O'Hare said...


I've got it right the first time. No one threw a "last minute curve" at Council. This item was on the agenda the Monday before the Thursday night meeting. The two low bids that were legally unacceptable were that way because the vendors failed to fill them out correctly. In one instance, the proposal wasn't evven signed. God, you want the administration to stand there and hold their hands???

The solution to this problem was simple - reject all the bids and do it over. That is expressly provided for in the Administrative Code, which I linked on my main post. That was in the best interests of the county, and the folks on council should realize they represent taxpayers, not bidders. So you're completely full of shit when you suggest I'm ignoring the law for Stoffa. That's actually what county council is doing. The law expressly permits this and county council won't do it, costing taxpayers $1.5 MM in the process.

As for the other matter, it's really unrelated to the current topic, but I'll answer it. Stoffa did exactly as he promised when he first ran for office. He proposed a tax increase for open space. Council illegally attempted to invade the cash reserve, a violation of the Home Rule Charter. That point was affirmed by their own lawyer, Lenny Zito.

And BC, you know damn well I've never praised county council.

LSTresidentPIA said...

I love it! Lamont Noclue!

Anonymous said...

Northampton County Controller John Schimmel's August 4, 2006, audit of the courthouse and prison contracts reveals routine violations of the county's procurement code.

Anonymous said...

To Billy Givens

Dude, it's June 27th, 2007. It's not August 4th, 2006. Stay on topic. Get up to speed here, Billy. Don't forget your meds.

Anonymous said...

Anon. 6:34 PM,

Kiss my ass. Bernie was blogging, among other topics, about Northampton County procurement code violations, the thrust of my comments.

At least some of the hens in Bernie's coop identify themselves, if only by a cackle or the ruffling of tail feathers.

That's more than you can do, cringing behind your anonimity, which to me means you're nothing more than chicken shit.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Billy, your point is well taken. Your comment was pertinent. But I wish you'd save your dirty talkk for when we're alone.

Anonymous said...

What Council did is unbelievable. Why are you focusing on Dert and Mac. Mr. Nice Guy Dowd and are next Executive Ms. McHale rolled on this one too. God that women is dumb. Dowd is just a phoney.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I didn't focus on Dertinger or McClure. I merely mention them first because they were the first council members to speak. I also quoted Ann McHale, who did make an incredibly stupid statement. I was shocked that Dowd, who runs a chamber of commerce, went along with this, and pointed it out. Same is true for Cusick, who claims to be a fiscal conservative.

Maybe it's the different room, but everyone except Grube had a collective brain fart.

Anonymous said...

In the immortal words of Randall "Tex" Cobb, "You just openned up a whole can of whoop ass!"

Anonymous said...

I'm confused. had the code been revised? since when is rejecting bids a legislative function? isn't this in the exec's ambit of authority? why did it go to council at all?

Bernie O'Hare said...

Under the Admin Code, which I linked in the main post, bid rejections requires the exec and council.

Anonymous said...

A brief analogy before I make my points. If there is a gas station across the street from you that charges $2.99/gal and one 50 miles away that charges $2.89/gal it is not "cost effective" to go with the cheapest price. It's the same type of decision on a grander scale. What you told your readers was simply that Council chose to spend more. That's not the whole story. Council chose cost effective and fair business practice over upfront cost.

Point 1. ACS has proposed savings of $2m over the 4yr contract, actually beating your discussed $1.5m savings by $500k. The administration simply needs to exercise these options.

Point 2. The lowest bid you speak of admittedly includes staff reductions, something the County fought hard to get rectified last year. That could have complications that are not seen until it's too late.

Point 3. Every elected and appointed official, employee and ultimately tax paying citizen, relies on the County's systems for information and services. There is no going back to typewriters, notepads and calculators. The most important thing is the systems. If the systems are down every division in the county is down, nothing happens. ACS collectively, has hundreds of years experience with the systems. That institutional knowledge is irreplaceable.

Point 4 Considering the complexity of the systems and the reliance of hundreds of thousands of people on them and millions of dollars associated with them; Do you really want to trust them to companies that can't even follow instructions, when so much is on the line.

Lastly no matter if you look at cost effectiveness, quality of services, or a combination of all things, the bottom line is Council looked at the big picture and made the decision that was in the best interest of the County regardless of popularity or fear of ridicule. That's what they are elected to do. That's what leaders do.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 8:55,

I'd like to know who hired you to do the damage control for county council. What you're doing is nothing more than spin.

None of the arguments you advance, not a single one, was made when council refused to allow the administration to start the bidding process over. In statements to the Expresss Times yesterday, no member of council made those arguments.

And those arguments are total baloney. Let's start with the first, the ACS bid. ACS is the high bidder, at $10 million over 4 years. You can talk about cost savings initiatives all you want, and so can the unsuccvessful bidders. The reality is that ACS comes in at $1.5 million over the lowest bid. ACS recognized it was too high and proposed negotiating lower prices to the county. But it is unable to lower its bid once it's out there.

Second, the low bid was already unacceptable to the county administration. If it included a staff reduction, it would eventually be rejected by the information technology reviewing committee. But council stopped the county and bidders from continuing the process.

Third, because it's essential that we have the best people providing information services, it's important that the committee be able to review as many separate proposals as possible. Council cut that process off at the knees, limiting the admin to just one vendor.

Fourth, the committee felt it was "in the best interests of the county" to start over. And it is in the best interests of the county to review separate proposals on their merits, not some technicality. Why shoukd the county be deprived of an interesting and cost-savings proposal just because some office somewhere didn't forward an addendum?

If ytou're really interested in cost effectiveness and quality of services, you allow the committee to do its job. They had three vendors talking turkey. Council knocked two of those three vendors off, and in a way that makes it impossible legally for the admin to negotiate a lower price with the third.

Paul Oliver, the Director of IT at Just Born, volunteered his time review vendor qualifications and proposals. His committee recommended that the best interests of the cvounty would be served by seeking new bids. Those bids would actually be lower, resulting in even more savings to the county.

Rather than doing this impartially with an eye towards saving some money, council made it impossible for the admin to deal with anyone other than ACS. It has no obligation to ACS. Its fiduciary responsibility is to the Northampton County taxpayer.

Anonymous said...

couple observations

1. you exorcated 2 members of the BHA for trying to go with the low bid in the esco process. here you exorcate council for going with ACS over the lowest noncomplying bid.

2. Not sure how much politics entered into it. one of the rejected firms here has "helped" some "D" candidates in the recent past.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Good point.

1) In the BHA matter, Lumpy and Long tried to steer the contract to a major political contributor, ignoring the advice of the outfit it made to make a resommendation, as well as its own staff.

2) In the county matter, council is choosing to ignore the recommendation of the IT Review Committee, which has recommended that bidding start over so that the county gets the best deal possible.

3) I honestly don't think this was a political decision, except possibly the desire to embarrass Stoffa. But council members succeeded, yet again, in making themselves look very foolish.

Anonymous said...

1) a consultant with a compromised reputation, although certainly, you and i will not agree on that point. However, i suspect that if the low bidder was NOT a political player, you would've been screaming that the BHA should've went with the low bid.

I admit i have an unhealthy prejudice in favor of those who choose to exercise their 1st amendment rights. you would be more at peace with the universe (it's a tao thing) if you admit you have an unhealthy prejudice against those same folks.

self enlightenment is good for the soul. pardon me while i drop to the floor in the lotus position.

2) agreed.

3) i'll let you know when i return from my meditative trance.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 3:25,

1) If the consultant had a compromised reputation, as you suggest, why did the BHA pay him? I believe it was a significant fee. Why not intead just reject the proposals or hire another consultant whose advice is not compromised?

If the low bidder was the outfit recommended by staff and a well-piad consultant, I'd probably go with that outfit. I'd agree that BHA members do have the responsibility to review staff and consultant reecommendations and make their own decision. I just don't think that's what happened. I think Long and Sanders were trying their best to hire an outfit that contributed heavily to D candidates, including Cunningham.

2) I hope council recognizes this needs to be rebid.

Anonymous said...

you continue to resist self-enlightenment. maybe when you can snatch the pebble from my hand...

in the meantime, adjust the thermostat. and tell Owens I ain't the guy kicking him around on your blog.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Owens claims you owe him lunch. And I told him I wasn't sure who the Wordmeister may be. That dude quotes Dante and you quote The Simpsons.

Chilly in here?

LVDem said...

Angle is threatening to sue? He's the one who went on vacation. That was his choice. Unless Stoffa packed him in a box and shipped him off... which I would have paid to see.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 1:46 PM said: couple observations: 1. you exorcated 2 members of the BHA for trying to go with the low bid in the esco process. here you exorcate council for going with ACS over the lowest noncomplying bid. 2. Not sure how much politics entered into it.one of the rejected firms here has "helped" some "D" candidates in the recent past.

Spelling ?exorcate? and other nonsense aside. ****** Is this some kind of joke, or what? give us a break! BHA numbskulls Long and Lumpy did not take advice from staff "and" highly paid consultant, suggested by HUD as best way to go, for certain, with the energy saving contract a month or so ago. (I'm surprised none have gone to jail yet, or/and followed up "more" by MSM to date).
go figure! In the end, majority of BHA Commissioners took the higher bid, allowed by law, at an extra cost of only $500.00 and Anonymous 1:46 PM here wants to equate the same as 1.5 million dollars, "NOT" advised by Stoffa administration or anybody else. What part of this analogy am I missing? larry@kisslinger.com

river said...

Hey Anon 8:55 with your $2.99 a gallon gas. How Much of the $10 MILLION are you getting??? Cut me in for some $$$ and I will back you all the way, just like your buddies do. ha ha ha