|Executive John Brown's no-bid contracts under review|
In addition to being a battle between Democrats and Republicans, this dispute also pitted two County Attorneys against each other.
Phil Lauer, who represents Council, advised that the no-bid contract was unlawful. He noted that the Administrative Code requires that contracts for professional services be competitively bid. He added that, even when a no-bid contract is permitted, an Executive Order must be issued before it is awarded, explaining why competitive bidding would be impractical. That never occurred.
Vic Scomillio, who represents the Executive, argued just as effectively that the no-bid contract is not only legal, but is just one of many similar contracts awarded throughout the years by previous administrations. He disputed that media firm Sahl Communications provides "professional services", which he called a "term of art" used in the Administrative Code to refer to services that require specialized skill or an "extended course of specialized study." He acknowledged that the Executive Order issued in conjunction with this contract failed to explain why bidding would be impractical, but assured Council that the Order had been "updated".
No member of Council had seen the updated Order, so Scomillio provided his own copy to Lauer, stating that a memo had gone out to Council. "Why they weren't received, I'm not sure," said Scomillio.
"They went out at 4:48 pm", said Controller Steve Barron from his seat in the audience, which is after the 4:30 pm closing time in Northampton County.
After making a cursory review, Lauer concluded the language may be inadequate. "I don't believe the Executive orders that you've given me state a reason, although they do by implication." He also noted the order must be issued before the contract is awarded.
McClure scoffed at the argument that Sahl Communications is not providing "professional services."
"In order to award this $84,000 one year contract to Sahl Communications for public relations, which the Administration wants to argue isn't a professional service, you have to also explain why Sahl Communications is the only one who can offer this nonprofessional service as a sole provider. And I would suggest to you it can't be done in the context of twisting yourself into that particular pretzel."
McClure argued that whether Council sues is immaterial because a citizen could file suit as well.
Mat Benol moved to table the matter until the next meeting, which passed along party lines. Because the motion to table is only until the next meeting, Council will visit the Executive's authority to award no-bid contracts again in two weeks.
After the meeting, a disgusted Ken Kraft stated, "The Republican Party voted tonight to allow the County Executive to spend $84,000 on a public relations firm that's not professional." But one of those Republicans, Glenn Geissinger, had a different take. "[W]e voted to table a resolution that called into question the legal rights of the Executive under the Administrative Code to execute a certain classification of contract."
(Blogger's Note: Updated 11:10 am.)