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Friday, March 21, 2014

NorCo Council Refuses To Sue Over No-Bid Contract

Lamont McClure
During a brief yet contentious March 20 meeting, Northampton County's five Republican Council members staved off an attack aimed at an $84,000 no-bid contract approved by Executive John Brown last month. It's a public relations consultant contract with Bethlehem's Sahl Communications, which is run by Kim Plyler. Two weeks ago, when Lamont McClure first asked Council to condemn the no-bid contract, all five Republicans voted to table the matter. Last night, they rejected several McClure resolutions supported by all four Democrats, including one that would authorize Council Solicitor Phil Lauer to sue. But is this matter over? McClure hinted last night that someone is waiting in the wings, ready to sue.

While this matter was tabled, Brown paid Sahl $7,000 under the disputed contract. That's why McClure said they needed to sue. Referring to an earlier memo from Solicitor Lauer, ruling that the contract is illegal, McClure warned fellow Council members, "You're free to ignore the advice of your own lawyer. I think you do that at your own peril."

Is Public Relations a Professional Service?

Under county law, all professional services must be competitively bid. But is a public relations consultant a professional service? County Solicitor Victor Scomillio says No, calling it a "nonprofessional service done in a professional way." Lauer, who recently won a case against former Executive John Stoffa over the meaning of professional services, believes county law must be clarified. "It doesn't seem to me to make a lot of sense for us to be going to court periodically to have a judge tell us, 'Yes, this was a professional service' or 'No it wasn't.'"

Glenn Geissinger, who is in the public relations business himself, was ironically placed in the position of arguing that what he does is not a professional service, observing that no state licensing or particular certification or membership in any professional organization is required. But McClure had argued that Sahl is a member of several professional organizations and may even be accredited.

Seth Vaughn suggested that McClure was advocating a witch hunt, something McClure denied. "It isn't a witch hunt," he disagreed "It's called doing my job."

Ken Kraft argued that spending $84,000 for a public relations consultant who answers to the Executive is a waste of taxpayer money. "The County Executive will have to answer to the voters for the decision of hiring a communications company," answered President Peg Ferraro. "We can think it's a terrible waste of taxpayer money, but we are voting on procedure."

"We struggle with the Administrative Code every day," said Procurement Officer Kathryn Anderson. "There'a a lot of irregularities in there. There's a lot of things left open to interpretation. We would welcome anyone's input and help in revising that Code."

Anderson also told Council that, before he awarded the no-bid contract to Sahl, Executive Brown did reach out to the Procurement Office. "We really did not feel that there was anything being done here that was not appropriate," she said. She told Council member that this contract was nothing "out of the norm."

Did Brown State Why He Needed a No-Bid Contract? 

Lauer had another problem with the contract. No-bid contracts for non-professional services are permitted by County law. But the Executive must first issue an Executive Order, explaining why competitive negotiation would be impractical or imprudent. That never happened.  The Orders that Brown signed, after the fact, still failed to provide a satisfactory explanation, according to Lauer. Anderson acknowledged, in response to questions from McClure, that an Executive Order is needed before the contract is executed, and failure to do so is a "defective process."

McClure Hints at Looming Lawsuit

Before the vote, McClure hinted that, if Council failed to act on their own, a lawsuit might be filed anyway, though he did not say from where. "I can promise you the lawsuit won't be good, if in fact one happens, and if in fact we don't control it. ... If we allow someone else to do that, we have failed."

If such a lawsuit is filed, it won't be by Council.


Anonymous said...

Congratulations to the Republicans for not letting the liberal Democrats divide them with their lawsuit nonsense.

The county executive needs the help of good Republicans who understand this is all a typical Democrat "witch hunt".

Stay strong Mr. Brown and a thumbs up to our new County Council. Now lets get rid of Werner, Parsons and McClure next year. Kraft is in a strong Dem District or he would be toast as well.

Time to clean up the mess and make the county stronger.

Anonymous said...

2:10 am. So you are for breaking the county code because it was done by republicans? And the democrats are no good because they want to enforce county code?

Anonymous said...

Is Lamont showing up these days? The contract is legal and elections have consequences. Move along and stop whining.

Anonymous said...

No self-respecting fiscally responsible official would support such an outrageous use of tax dollars. Fortunately, Mr Brown will be a one-termer.

Anonymous said...

When Hokie Joe speaks, you should listen.
The administrative code is a tool of County Council. The Home Rule Charter designates the Council as a Check and balance on the Administration. The Council writes the code, the council holds public hearings on the code, the council then adopts the code as law, and "YES" the code has the effect of law. When anyone violates the code there are penalties to be paid. If Council is going to ignore their own laws then they are negligent of their duties and are not fulfilling the mandates of the Home Rule Charter. The penalties for violating the Charter is "forfietute of office". Take this issue to court. Teach Council a very hard and much needed lesson is government.

Anonymous said...

2:10 AM
Your Republican solictor Scumillio is providing the wrong advice to his "PAL" Mr. Brown! His interpretation of this will cost the taxpayers a great sum of money when they are sued. See"ya all" in court.

Anonymous said...

is 2;10 Glen or Matt? I don't think it is Vaughn, it sounds like one of the other two. Bernie?

Anonymous said...

Didn't Peg Ferraro vote for council to bring the lawsuit over the Gracedale ambulance contract? If so, that makes her a big hypocrit now.

Anonymous said...

Yes she did, and Kraft pointed that out last night in the meeting. and she stuttered.

Anonymous said...

Excellent article and reporting, Bernie.

The Coward

Anonymous said...

This is why R's can't stay in office. Another example of why affiliations don't matter and those who seek to govern will alwsys put their interests ahead of ours and when necessary, ignore the law in doing so.

This was a circling of the wagons, nothing more. If it were a D doing this, they would have been on it like flies on shit, and rightly so.

Feckless Ferraro's hypocrisy is a real SHOCKA!


Anonymous said...

I have no respect for so-called "leaders" who ignore the advice of counsel, counsel that taxpayers are paying. It happens in my town all the time. "I would strongly suggest XYZ" being met by a vote for ZYX leads me to ask, why I am paying for someone who knows what they are doing, when this person is ignored.

Saying this is a "witch hunt" is like Republicans in NJ saying Bridgegate and Sandygate are witch hunts. Hopefully there will be a lawsuit, which shouldn't be necessary but apparently is.

Anonymous said...

anon 10:57,

When has Peg not been a hypocrite. The people of Northampton County love that and overwhelmingly continue to vote her into office.

Anonymous said...

"Fortunately, Mr Brown will be a one-termer."

Yes. This was also said of John Stoffa.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bernie O'Hare said...

I am getting sick and tired of anonymous personal attacks at just about everyone. Grow up.

Matt M. said...

Last I checked, a professional is someone trained and skilled at a vocation, and is therefore paid to perform said skill and vocation.

Are these folks high-school dropouts performing this service? I doubt it . Now we're stuck with an illegal contract and a potential lawsuit.

I'm sick of one party touting themselves as "Fiscal Conservatives" when they clearly are not.

Bernie O'Hare said...

They cannot support this and claim fiscal responsibility. I agree, Matt.