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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Nice Guy Stoffa Finishes First: New IT Bid Saves County $1.8 Million

"Nice guys finish last."

That's how councilperson Ann McHale exploded when told that the Stoffa administration was seeking council's input on whether to reject some high bids for county services. Stoffa thought we could do better. McHale was one of those who didn't want to be bothered.

Let me tell you the story.

When Northampton County first bid its information technology contract, three computer companies responded. Technical defects led to two rejections, leaving the county with only one bid. Affiliated Computer Services, the county's current provider, was actually the high bidder, at a little over $10 million. It was also the low bidder because it was the only company that could be legally considered.

Stoffa was unable legally to negotiate directly with ACS for a lower bid. So the county had two choices - award a new IT contract to ACS for $10 million, or reject all bids and start over. Our Administrative Code allows the county to reject bids when "it is in the best interest of the County." All three bidders had agreed to submit new bids, and the general feeling was that new bids would come in a little lower.

Amazingly, when county council was asked to reject, it refused. Personally, I think that small-minded group tried to stick it to the county's taxpayers for two reasons. First, one of the rejected bidders is a major contributor to Republicans, and council saw an opportunity to pull a "pay to play" in reverse. Second, they wanted to embarrass County Exec John Stoffa, who refuses to play their political games. Whatever their reasoning, it was certainly bad government.

This unbridled hubris continued. Council brazenly refused to accept their own lawyer's advice, when he told them they lack supervisory authority over the bidding process. It might "set a precedent." Ann McHale, Charles Dertinger, Lamont McClure, Diane Neiper and Tony Branco just couldn't bring themselves to admit they had made a mistake. The matter was instead referred to Lamont McClure's law and order committee, where he claims to have had a "lot of success in dealing with tough problems." The matter has languished there since July 12 with no discussion.

Stoffa ended up rejecting the bids on his own and sought new proposals. "They [council] can do what they want to do. I answer to the taxpayers, ultimately."

Thanks to Sarah Cassi at The Express Times, we know the new bids are in. The county wants to award its IT contract to ACS, but this time the bid is $8.2 million. That will save the county, and its taxpayers, $1.8 million over the bid that council tried to shove down our throats.

Looks like nice guys do finish first after all.

And for once, so does the taxpayer.
Update: Although council clearly blew this one, and for all the wrong reasons, Stoffa refused to rub their faces in it. But Ann McHale, in remarks to The Mornings Call's Joe Nixon, snorts, "I don't think the process was very professional." I agree, Ann. Council, and you especially, acted very unprofessionally.


Anonymous said...

Kudos to Stoffa for standing up to those on Council who didn't want to have the bids resubmitted!

Anonymous said...

so what really happened is everyone made noise and acs wanted the contract so they lowered there bid.acs should of been fair in the first place.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Of course, ACS wanted the contract. But would you rather pay $10 MM or $8.2 MM? Had we listened to Dertinger, McHale, McClure, Branco, Cusick, Dowd, and Neiper, that's exactly what would have happened.

Eventually, Dowd and Cusick seemed to realize they had screwed up and were at least willing to listen to Zito. But not the rest.

Only Grube and Angle knew all along how stupid this was.

The rest spoke about being "fair" to other bidders. Last time I checked, the had no obligation to county contractors. Their obligation is the best interest of the county.

Even though council tried to make life very difficult for Stoffa and nearly screwed the taxpayer, it's amazing that Stoffa is not rubbing council's face in its own error. He has every right to do so. But he's not. He's got a little more class than that.

Maybe the rest of council can take a lesson from that.

Blah Society said...

Wow, I forgot all about this one. Thanks for the update.

But here's a question - Where will the $1.8 million, possibly more, be used now? Are there any plans?

Bernie O'Hare said...


Vic Mazziotti could speak all day on where that savings coud be applied, from a new archives to a prison expansion to open space to overtime.

Blah Society said...

How about towards some homeless famalies to help them get back on their feet?

This was the topic of your recent post. I'm surprised nobody mentioned that this saved money be contributed to those who need it most, not a lame prison expansion or more overtime to those who already have jobs!!!

Bernie O'Hare said...

AJ, The homeless and poor have a very bad lobby, as you may have noticed.

Prisons, on the other hand, are big business. We already have the largest prison population in the world.

Anonymous said...

Good for Stoffa - this time.

The money that wasn't spent, ought not be. It belongs to taxpayers whose burden is too high already.

Not to worry, though. Stoffa's Santa Claus bond scheme will throw lots of goodies at all the key constituencies in time for re-election. He's a smart guy who knows how the system works. And what it takes for incumbents to keep their seats. Bernie makes him seem like Jimmy Stewart, and he may well be a nice guy, but his profession is currently listed as politician, and he's proven to be quite good at it.

Big splash on Bernie's blog about saving 1.8. Not so much the 20 plus interest he's about to sentence our children to paying off. Bet there won't be a lawsuit this time.


Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 5:15,

Actually, Stoffa's profession is not listed as politician -- it's listed as county exec. And his approach as exec has been distinctly apolitical.

I don't know whether a $20 MM bond is a good idea, to be honest. I do know we need someplace fast to house prisoners because the prison expansion that Team Reibman blessed us with was over capacity less than a year after it was built. The county also needs an archives building bc Team Reibman tore it down for the new prison expansion.

What motivated me to sue over the county's $111 million megabond was it's $29 MM economic development component. With one had, the bond gave money to preserve open space. But with another, it took green space away for economic development. And if you're going to have economic development, it should not be in suburbs like Bushkill Tp. I am philosophically opposed to the public funding of private enterprise, and sued.

I don't believe that any portion of Stoffa''s contemplated $20 MM bond is devoted to economic development.

The county has an obligation to provide facilities to house prisoners, and it should not force them to sleep in cots in a gym and in hallways. Now perhaps you'd like to turn the key and let them all out. And perhaps some of them don't belong there. But that's not Stoffa's call. He is not the one imposing the sentences that make that bond necessary.

Although I am highly critical of judges outside the courtroom, they're entitled to make the decisions in the courtroom that are best designed to achieve justice. And we all have to pay for that. That's our system. I'm sure you would not blame the judges. And it's just as silly to blame Stoffa.

Now this post was about Stoffa's decision, over the vociferous objections of council to rebid a contract that council was willing to spend $10 MM to fund. Thanks to Stoffa's decision and refusal to allow mean-spirited council members to bully him, he was able to save you $1.8 MM.

I know it's hard for you to commend Stoffa, but he deserves an 'attaboy for this. Just one.

Anonymous said...


Bernie O'Hare said...

Very good! Now I'll say something nice about Glenn Reibman. he's a gentleman.

Anonymous said...

Glenn Reibman follows orders well. And that was a very good thing.