Before I get into the Administrative Code, let me give you some background on these consultants.
Integrity Personnel's owner, Kevin Flemming, is a friend, business associate and perhaps even a client of Attorney Scott "I love the NIZ" Allinson. Funny thing. I heard that Allinson represents Deana Zosky, too. This is something I can't confirm.
Donna Taggart seems to have connections everywhere. She did a lot of work, still may, for the Greater Easton Development Partnership. Dick McAteer has his fingers in that piece of pie. We know his connection to Brown and the Lehigh Valley Partnership.
Kim Plyler was actually a communications specialist with the ill-fated Callahan for Congress run. How did she get connected to Brown? Real political irony there. She and Donna Taggart share the same office on East Third Street.
Though I'm letting Kraft use my law degree, I'm mostly interested in what lawyers familiar with municipal law think about these contracts. I've spoken to three of them, and it appears that my law degree is in good hands. Kraft is right.
1. Brown lacks authority to spend money for these contracts. - Without a budget amendment, Brown has no authority to spend money for contracts that were never funded by Council. He does not have the power, under the Home Rule Charter, to transfer money appropriated for other purposes. They control the purse strings.
2. Brown skipped the procurement office. - The Administrative Code, in order to prevent awarding political favors, centralizes contract awards through the procurement office (Sec. 13.04). With some enumerated exceptions that have no application here, these contracts must be awarded through the procurement office, not the Executive.
3. Professional service contracts require competitive negotiation. - The Administrative Code requires competitive bidding, even for professional services contracts (Sec.13.09). According to one legal expert, this means there must be public notice (advertising); a Request for Proposals (RFPs); opening of the proposals by the Procurement Officer; and an award to the person whose proposal is determined in writing to be the most advantageous to the County, taking into consideration price and the evaluation factors set forth in the Request for Proposals. "The procedure must be followed to avoid the awarding of contracts at the whim of the Executive, which appears to be what happened here."
4. Brown awarded no-bid contracts without explaining why competitive bidding is impractical. -The consultant contracts that Brown executed appear to be professional services contracts that should have gone the competitive bidding route. But let's assume they're not. The Administrative Code does allow no-bid contracts in some circumstances, but the Executive must issue an Executive Order before he executes the contract, stating why he was unable to use competitive negotiation. He also must clear it with Council. (Sec. 13.07(b)). There is no evidence that happened.
Solicitor Vic Scomillio seems to think that this provision of the Administrative Code only applies to the acquisition of County property, as he explained to a Council Committee not long ago. He seems to be thinking real estate. But if he reads the Code a little more closely, he'll see that "services" like a consultant contract are included in the term "County property.:" For example, Section 13.04 (a), which centralizes these contracts in the procurement office, provides they apply to "services, printing and purchasing of other County property." (Emphasis is mine).
5. The Administrative Code has Teeth. - Section 13.21 provides that if Brown intentionally or knowing violates the purchasing provisions of the Administration Code, he can be personally surcharged for any damages caused to the County. In other words, he can be forced to pay the cost of those contracts himself. In addition, he would be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a year in prison and a $1,000 fine.
I believe these contracts are illegal. I have no doubt that Brown, when executing these political favors, had no idea that he was breaking the law. But now that he has been put on notice, he needs to suspend these contracts.