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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Disgruntled Bidder

Northampton County recently decided to have an outside firm assess Bethlehem's Sands Casino. Calling it "the most important decision in assessment that the county has ever made," Finance Director Vic Mazziotti recommended California firm HVS, which has experience appraising hundreds of casinos, to county council. They unanimously agreed, and the firm will be paid around $100,000 for this job. Sounds fairly straightforward, right? Unfortunately, there's another story, and it reveals a local businessman who used political contacts, instead of qualifications, to pressure county officials.

In competitive bidding, the low price usually wins. But for the casino appraisal, the county went the RFP (Request for Proposal) route. Cheaper is not always better, especially when professional services are involved. Proposals are opened at the same time and assigned to a committee, which evaluates and recommends an ideal vendor. County Council must accept this recommendation, and only then is the County Executive free to sign a contract. In this case, there were four proposals, and one of them came from Allentown appraiser John Ingram, who has absolutely no experience with casinos.

Purchasing Officer Kathryn Anderson tells me that, once a proposal is received, county officials adopt a "cone of silence" until the contract is awarded. This avoids undue influence by any one bidder, who may seek to get a leg up on other prospective vendors. But Ingram made a point of calling numerous county officials anyway. He actually met Northampton Controller Steve Baron, and made a point of mentioning his ties to Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski. In fact, in his proposal, Ingram lists Pawlowski as his first reference, including the mayor's personal cell phone number. The other three vendors list banks. Ingram also bragged that he was a member of King Edwin's blue ribbon panel. You know, that's the one that has failed to solve the Queen City's financial woes.

Ingram amazingly wanted the county to stop the RFP process and just award the contract to him.

Ingram did not stop with Controller Barron. He called Finance Director Vic Mazziotti, Purchasing Officer Kathryn Anderson and Director of Administration John Conklin. He even put the squeeze on Council member Charles Dertinger, reportedly calling him at least six times.

The committee making the recommendation in this case included Mazziotti, Anderson and Conklin. Council Prez Ann McHale, Assistant Solicitor Dave Backenstoe and Bethlehem official Mark Sivac also participated. After two meetings, HVS was their unanimous recommendation. The minutes are quite revealing.

"John Ingram continues calling our people about the job and downgrading HVS. John C[onklin] said we need to practice the cone of silence with vendors and Ingram should be told this is our policy and stop. John feels Ingram's proposal should be thrown out.

"Ann said Ingram does not have the insurance that is needed; therefore, the proposal does not meet the requirements. Ann also feels Ingram's proposal should be thrown out.

"Ann would like a local vendor, but everything with Ingram is too negative."

Ingram, when he learned he was rejected by the committee, actually asked County Executive John Stoffa to override their recommendation.

"According to Ann McHale and Charles Dercinger (sp?), the final decision has been made on who is going to be awarded the contract to appraise the Bethlehem Sands Casino---and they said it was made, this morning, in favor of HVS out of San Francisco---so much for the County saving money on valuation services! I didn't know that McHale was on the committee making the decision until yesterday, and I called her for the first time, early this afternoon. She was very unresponsive, except to tell me the final decision had been made, the public announcement would be made on Monday, and that she really didn't want to talk to me.

"I thought the final decision was yours to make, or do you just go along with whatever they decide to do? Anyway, if that is the final decision, I'm very disappointed, of course. If so, that will be the first, only and last RFP I'll ever respond to---who needs the wasted time? If you have the ability to override their decision, I'd still like the opportunity to work with the County on the appraisal."

Stoffa refused to go against his own committee, so Ingram threatened to complain to council and the press. They refused to be bullied. Dertinger and McHale, whom I've often criticized, resisted this undue influence.

In this case, what you know mattered a lot more than who you know.


Anonymous said...

Wow. What a crazy story. Good for Dertinger, McHale, Stoffa, all of them for doing what's right. This guys sounds like a nut.

Bernie O'Hare said...

It is so easy to do the wrong thing, to mention a campaign that needs money, or something along those lines. But it appears that even council members like McHale and Dertinger, for whom I have no great admiration, handled this matter well.

Joe Hilliard said...

Sounds like a local influence peddler who is begging too much.

Maybe, just maybe, with the greater scrutiny by the media and bloggers, this type of crap is starting to come to an end.

Don't know anything about the other company, but when locals are begging hard, maybe they have another interest in the local political scene.

However, perhaps, the other company should be scrutinized as well. As you will probably do.

Transparency and sunlight are the great disinfectant in politics.

And it applies to both 'sides'.

Good work Bernie.

LVCI said...

In the current environment laced with cynicisms and distrust of politicians, how uplifting to hear this.

Again hats off to in depth local blog reporting.

Anonymous said...

I guess NorCo is not all that bad. Seems like McHale, Dertinger, Stoffa, and the others handled this properly.

I guess Ingram is use to do doing business in Allentown...that is properly is how it works there.

Anonymous said...

Outstanding local news article: This is why I read you before the Morning Call. Makes you wonder what kind of shenanigans Ingram has been up to in Allentown City Hall. Also sheds a little light on the kind of people that make it onto King Edwin's Committees.

Juan Peron said...

Ingram used to doing business in Allentown? More like Paraguay in the 50s.

Anonymous said...

I read Bernie before Call too.

Anonymous said...

It's nice to read about local officials doing the right thing for one. Bernie, this must have killed you.

Anonymous said...

how do people get away with being this unprofessional? Laughable.

Anonymous said...

Kudos to county officials who used superb judgement in denying Ingram's insane rant. His threat not to do business with the county in the future is laughable. If anything, his business will suffer when potential customers read about this incident.

Anonymous said...

This means the guy is probably great. Whomever took the minutes couldn't even spell the name of a sitting Councilman correctly.

Who knows waht happened, but we do know when it comes to the Stoffa administration ohare is Herr Stoffas, Herr Gobbels.

"The Cone of Silence", what a corny group. Did that come from an Austin Powers movie. I have an idea for the administration whynot institute a "Cone of Coompetence" or a "Cone of Accomplishment".

Ya got to love this crew. They can't shoot straight but between them amd ohairy, they do keep us all amused.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"Whomever took the minutes couldn't even spell the name of a sitting Councilman correctly."

That was Ingram's own email, dipshit. It is little wonder you don't have a clue bc for one thing, you can't even read.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:35- the "cone of silence" was a gadget on the old TV series "Get Smart". You should know, since you're about as bright as Maxwell Smart.

Bernie O'Hare said...

And it's "whoever," not "whomever."

Anonymous said...

I loved the "cone of Competence" line, anon 7:35. Don't let Ohairy and his assorted posse of poison get you down, it was funney and quite apropos for this Administration.

Joe Hilliard said...

Anon 10:35 -

Don't insult Maxwell! He was a bit of a doofus, but he always got it right. Unlike the Pawlowski apologists and cronies...

Anonymous said...

Cone of Competence, nice.