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Friday, August 08, 2014

Take Your Pick - Bonusgate or Political Witch Hunt?

Controller Steve Barron
UPDATED 11:30 AM: To Democrats on Northampton County Council and Controller Steve Barron, it's Bonusgate all over again. To Republicans, it's a "political witch hunt." To Executive John Brown, it's "an 'opinion' of a minority with an ax to grind." Those are the widely varying conclusions concerning a series of emails between Brown and his public relations consultant, Kim Plyler of Bethlehem-based Sahl Communications. They made for a rancorous County Council meeting on August 8.

Plyler's Sahl Communications  first signed with the County on February 8, 2014 in a controversial no-bid contract. All four Democrats on Council opposed it, and Controller Steve Barron sued to have the contract declared invalid, arguing that the contract should have been bid..

In response to Barron's lawsuit, filed on April 3, Brown relented, ended the contract and decided to seek bids for his public relations work. On July 3, he issued an Executive Order awarding the contract to Sahl again. This time, it is a one-year, $75,500, contract.

Because it's under $100,000, he needs no approval from Council.

Barron sued again. The controversial emails were produced as a result of discovery requests.

Barron presented them during the public comment portion of the meeting, going well beyond the five-minute time limit.

The Emails

The Controller was disturbed by email exchanges between Plyler and Brown, sent to his county email address, concerning "today's fundraising meeting"  Plyler also sent copies of this email to Matt Deibert and Lucy Lennon, two of Brown's political advisors. The email refers to notes from "today's fundraising meeting". Plyler requests an appointment at the courthouse to review those fundraising notes, and Brown sets up a noon meeting in his courthouse office.

"It is clear that Ms. Plyler is engaged in some sort of political fundraising while she's being paid by the County," observed Barron.

In an April 4, 2014 email exchange between Brown and Plyler, the Exec uses his county email address to discuss an upcoming Corbett fundraiser. Plyler jokes about the $500 per person price tag, saying it must be a Republican event. This email exchange occurred after Brown had ended his first contract with Plyler, but he's using his county email address. Plyler's contract had been suspended at that point, but she was paid for this month.

Barron also complained about Brown's fundraising involvement with Matt Deibert. He told Council that Deibert has had "disturbing interactions with county vendors" and "has made it very clear that if certain things are not done there will be consequences." He declined to name any of these vendors.

Bonusgate v. Political Witch Hunt

Council member Lamont McClure, a Democrat, called on Brown to end the Sahl contract that night. "This may be Bonusgate," he warned. "We clearly have evidence that public resources were being utilized for public purposes." He later added, "We don't need to use public money to set up a re-election campaign."

But Council member Mat Benol, a Republican, dismissed Barron's complaint as a "political with hunt" and "smoke and mirrors". He added that Barron himself had last year violated the Home Ruler Charter by teaching several classes in the middle of the day instead of working as a full-time Controller.

Defending himself, Barron stated he would be "derelict in my duty" if he failed to speak out.

"There should be concrete proof," Benol complained.

"You're holding it in your hand," retorted to McClure, referring to a copy of one of the emails.

Brown Calls Allegations Unfounded, Absurd

The usually subdued Brown mounted a vigorous defense of the Sahl contract and challenged the real motives of his accusers. "Sahl Communication has not and is not acting in any political support role on behalf of the Executive Office," he flatly stated, calling the accusations "without merit." He argued he has an obligation as Executive to meet with elected officials on all levels and to reach out to the business community.

Brown then lashed out at Council Democrats, as well as Barron.

He called the Controller's lawsuit a "baseless," "unfounded" and "absurd" waste of tens of thousands of dollars. He criticized Democrats on Council and Barron for promoting personal political agendas, disrupting his own initiatives and distracting the public from a very real financial crisis facing the County.

In Brown's eyes, the real problem is that revenue is only increasing $961,000 per year, while personnel costs alone are increasing by $3.9 million and the reserve fund is dry. In this environment, he insists that communication and understanding are critical.

"It is troubling that allegations are being made, while simultaneously the accusers acknowledge there is no supporting evidence," he maintained.

After he finished speaking, McClure asked Brown to just end the Sahl contract. But Brown responded he already said all he intends to say and would take no questions.

Benol Seeks Barron Emails, Phone Records

Benol has responded to the Barron disclosures about Brown with a "Right-to-Know" request seeking all emails between Barron and any members of Council over the past two years, as well as personal and County cell phone records.

56 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is a tough one.
Even a broken click is right twice a day. Barron is definitely a broken clock. He is a terrible controller, he is too political and he is incompetent. That being said he is bringing forward information that should be out there. Of course I have no doubt that McClure and Kraft are pulling his strings and giving him instructions.

Is the Brown use of this firm stupid, without question. Is it pure arrogance? Well he is a Republican. At the end of the day has anything illegal happened, I doubt the evidence is there yet but would not be surprised if more follows.

That being said. I still hope the Republicans find a "good" candidate to run for Controller. Not to absolve Brown, as his continued clueless stupidly will keep him in hot water for years but because Barron, even if right on this issue, is a terrible public official. He is still incompetent, overly political and frankly not qualified for the job he was elected to. We can do better.

Anonymous said...

It is a political witch hunt, but Brown should recognize by now that this contract is not worth the political liability. It's arrogance and stupidity and should be done away with.

Anonymous said...

While I think Brown is misguided, I believe he is sincere. On the Democrat side, it is clear we have these guys playing hardball to set themselves up to run against Brown for Executive. Be it Barron, McClure, Kraft or Werner. They are all kidding themselves. They have less ability than Brown. All political operators with no sincerity.

Anonymous said...

Bonusgate WAS a political witch hunt.



There just happened to be witches...

Anonymous said...

""It is troubling that allegations are being made, while simultaneously the accusers acknowledge there is no supporting evidence," "

other than the emails.

written by Brown.

I mean seriously? This is a Notre Dame guy?

Anonymous said...

I'll side with Brown over Northampton Community College Professor (and sometimes County Controller) Barron and Lamont No Show McClusterfuk.

Anonymous said...

I don't support Brown on this one , he doesn't have any problem spending taxpayer dollars on whatever he chose's disregarding anything council questions , he shows his arrogance in his reply,from where i'm sitting he doesn't like being questioned on or about anything.. he does owe an explanation to council and the public ,he works for us not the other way around , he doesn't come across as honest when he feels he has to hire a pr firm to cover his back. he seems to think he can do whatever he wants without any checks or balances.

Anonymous said...

Boy..I didn't realize how fucked up Brown really is ...Lucy Lennon (political advisor??)Mr. Brown all You have to do next is hire Her boyfriend and We can have another parking authority disaster......

Anonymous said...

Can't Executive Callahan do something about this?

Anonymous said...

This is an example of dumb and dumber. Take your pick who gets what label.

Anonymous said...

Pot calling the kettle black? Stalemate! Hit the reset button and get to work on what ails this county..revenue losses and a bloated budget. Stop the insanity and find some solutions before we go over the cliff!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a political witch hunt to me. But guess what? You are in politics, dumb ass. You don't think you'd be engaged in the same nonsense trying to bring a Democratic down to earth?

And another thing. How dare you complain about the budget gaps while blowing wads of taxpayer money on what YOU deem necessary - a paid PR consultancy firm. There's no one on staff that can perform that function? You have a lot of nerve, Mr. Fiscal Conservative.

You are now the recipient of a failed budget by another fiscal conservative who would not raise taxes even if it meant bringing the whole goddmaned thing to it's knees. Put on your tri-cornered hat and wave your Don't Tread on Me flag with kooks like Mezzalooney and don't you dare raise taxes.

Anonymous said...

Does Brown really need a PR firm? Of course not! Then why has he pushed this one issue so hard and now refuses to relent? Not sure but moneywise it is a drop in the bucket of county finances. It is a mainstay of most corporate business models and I think that is where he feels most comfortable as a pseudo ceo/executive. Not making excuses but trying to rationalize this thing.

Anonymous said...

When you complain about revenues not keeping up with expenses, you don't create new expenses. I'm sure most of the workforce is being asked to do more with less. What about you, Brownie? Of course not, you are the anointed one.

Anonymous said...

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! There has never been a controller who has used his office for political purposes like Little Stevie Blunder. Now he has allied himself with Werner, Kraft, and McClueless in attacking Brown over cherry-picked e-mails that prove nothing. Benol made a sobering remark, implying that he intended to request e-mails of other elected officials (BARRON) to see if they were engaged in political activities during company time. Barron's e-mails will likely reveal that he has been the worst violator of the Home Rule Charter. He is an opportunistic fool who should have a taste of his own medicine. All that being said, the Sahl contract is a joke and a waste of taxpayers money. In a time when the county is nearly broke, it is absurd to pay money for an executive to hire a PR firm. We all know that Plyler's only purpose is to make Brown look good for his reelection. She does absolutely NOTHING to serve the citizens of the county.

Anonymous said...

Fuckin politicians, always working and fundraising for "their" next election!

Anonymous said...

Werner made a good point last night. It clearly states in the job description of the county administrator that PR related functions i.e. liaison with the press, community outreach, are responsibilities of that position. The county is already paying $88 K to Campos and north of $50 K to Allen and neither of them can a write press release or host a media event? And now we add another $78 K in expenses for this relatively uncomplicated task? The Sahl contract is overkill. Plyler is a spin doctor, nothing more. Her job is to make Brownie look good. And the taxpayers of the county have the privilege of footing the bill. Only in the bizzaro world of Norco politics!

Anonymous said...

Its the same old song and dance for fiscal conservative Republicans. Everything and everyone else needs to be cut but not their budget or their needs. Their needs are met regardless of cost. After all, it's the executive that operates day to day civic functions for county government, right? No.

Anonymous said...

Did any council members ask Compos if he thought he should and could do the job. Be interesting to see how he handles questions. so far have heard he is just window dressing.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Um, That's just incredibly dumb. What do you think Campos would say, "Gee, I could never do this job, now that I think about it"?

He is the Executive's choice, is certainly qualified on paper, had a great deal of support and was voted in unanimously.

By the way, what does Campos have to do with this discussion?

Anonymous said...

Yaaaay, Gubmint!

Feckless children, the lot of them.

-Clem

Anonymous said...

Nice photo of Barron von Footinmouth. Is that a bad angle or does he really have more chins than a Chinese phone book? Wow.

Anonymous said...

Clem learned a new word from Bill O'Reilly last night! Feckless. Good job, Clem. Now back to your capitalistic wonderland of fast food engineering.

Anonymous said...

3:05,

Last night's word of the day was billingsgate. And yes, I know: it's Bush's fault and I'm a racist. There, just saved you a reply. Cheers!

Anonymous said...

Bernie, next time please photograph the Barron's good side.

Anonymous said...

Permission to change subject. Bernie, were you at the economic development committee meeting or have you watched the video? Brown is proposing to take nearly every division under the Department of Administration and putting them under DCED. What kind of crackpot idea is that? Putting the Conservation District, Farmland Preservation, Penn State Extension and even Weights and Measures under DCED?? There will be numerous conflicts of interest with this hair-brained idea, especially with the CD. Is the new Director of Administration so incompetent that he cannot oversee those programs? Each of those programs has been highly successful with competent administrators. Now, the DCED director, who is on a power trip, will be screwing around with those programs to the detrememt of the county. What will the director of administration be doing? There has been virtually NO economic development initiatives under the new administration so now they must find something to keep Donaher busy and to justify her pay grade. And in the process those divisions that are actually doing good work for the county will be screwed. This reorganization is a dumb idea and should be shot down by council.

Anonymous said...

3:59. Who are you? Did u call your councilman and tell them this? If not, why don't you call the people who vote?

Anonymous said...

To the point made by 12:59 and to a degree 3:59. County Council made it part of the discussion and so did Bernie by defining the Dir. of Admisntrations duties. One of them is getting information out there in the community. That does sound a lot like what we are now paying some consultant $75K+ to do. Based on early reports form the courthouse it is pretty clear Campos is a token hire. He is rarely seen and knows little of county operations. In fairness he has no experience running anything of any magnitude that comes even close to a county so I guess you have to have pretty low expectations. He is a great Hispanic vote push for Brown and like Allan Jennings a favored token for the business types.

The DCED thing actually has some truth to it. Donaher and Campos are Iannelli and Cunningham insiders(Chamber and LVEDC). They were pushed by the newly united groups.

Brown has a couple new best friends and they are ready to deal. The strings are all lined up and the players behind the scenes are already pulling.
Look for more and more Lehigh Valley Partnership and Iannelli/Cunningham policies being pushed in the County. You may also see more and more interesting consultant choices and engineering firms. Keep your eyes open.

The more things change the more they stay the same. The King is dead, long live the King!

THE Hallwalker!

Bernie O'Hare said...

If you had objections to Campos, you could have made them known at his confirmation hearing. You'd rather attack him anonymously here ... And after he was unanimously approved. Tells me all I need to know about you.

Anonymous said...

Putting the Conservation District, Farmland Preservation, Penn State Extension and even Weights and Measures under DCED??

Sounds like a good idea. Farming is a business. Open space programs and conservation district work with the local govts.

Anonymous said...

Dumbest idea ever.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Bernie is really sensitive about Campos. I think the point made was both he and Donaher come from the same crowd. You let people bring up Donaher shit but now you are all defensive.

He is in the big leagues now. If he can't take the heat and do the job he shouldn't be there, same as her. They are paid to do jobs that we don't need to pay consultants to do.

Anonymous said...

Donaher has become a darling of some on council but what has she really done? How many jobs have been directly created through her efforts? She should be doing what she wa s hired to do rather than taking on disingenuous divisions in an obvious power grab.

Bernie O'Hare said...

8:01, not defending Campos. Just pointing to your anonymous cowardice. Two weeks after he is confirmed, and after you had a chance to oppose him at an actual meeting, you make off topic anonymous shots. Additional comments will be deleted. I realize you're a troll, but stick to the subject.

Matt M. said...

For as long as we are paying for a 76k per year PR Firm, we should constantly asking what we are getting for the money... and if that means Right To Know Inquiries, Lawsuits and what have you, then that's the process that needs to be done.
For a Fiscal Conservative, I see a lot of high-priced redundancy that could be cut.

Ovem Lupo Commitere said...

"Plyler would not comment specifically because the emails are related to ongoing litigation.

""I am advised by counsel not to address any matters that are related to the pending lawsuit," she said." Express article quote.

While I perfectly understand why it was said, it is still humorously sad that 1.) we taxpayers have to pay a PR person at all, and 2.) the PR person can't even spin the "County" story because one county hand is slapping the other county hand.

... Beyond that, while I think McClure, Kraft, and Barron are purely political animals (thus, I don't think they are fighting this battle for honorable reasons), they will rightly be justified next year when Sahl/Plyler's contract is renewed for another one year contract. Does anyone doubt that it will not be?

... in the end, why do we need to pay an outside PR firm in the first place?? The best PR is GOOD GOVERNMENT, which is easy for those responsible to toot the County's horn to the press. If you have to pay an outside consultant to spin that you are giving us taxpayers good government, then you are obviously not giving us good government, in my opinion. Actions speak the loudest.

Bernie O'Hare said...

If an attempt is made to renew next year, it will have to go to Council. I believe Brown has conceded this point. I will check, but thought I saw that in the litigation.

Anonymous said...

Everyone is saying the same thing. The idea of paying cabinet members big salaries and then hiring consultants to do their jobs is nonsense. Shameful actions by our new Executive.

So much for the so-called fiscal conservative mantra of our Republican brethren. Next shoe to drop in this conservative paradise will be the big tax increase he will propose.

Anonymous said...

County Controller should be as non political as possible. Also, the person should have strong accounting/audit skills.

Both Lehigh and Northampton have political hacks in the job.

Bernie O'Hare said...

The emails, though limited, are disturbing. Contrary to what Brown asserted, they reveal that both he and Plyler used public resources for politics. This has been nothing but a headache and has distracted him and Council.

But there is no doubt in my mind that Barron and McClure were trying to score political points. There was no reason for Barron's appearance at courtesy of the floor. He should simply collect the emails and forward them to the DA, along with the transcript of Plyler stating under oath that she does not play politics. Whether all this rises to a criminal level is a decision for John Morganelli, not Barron or McClure.

While it's very clear that Brown should never have a meeting in his office to discuss political fundraisers, the consequences, if any, should be made by a professional prosecutor whose knowledge of official corruption is more unbiased. He is charged with the responsibility of being fair.

I do agree this needs to be reviewed, but not by Barron or McClure, and not in a way that paralyzes the government.

I could have predicted what happened. Brown dug in his heels bc he is personally offended, likely bc he is embarrassed a bit and never intended to break the law. Rs like Benol reacted to the politics, not the error.

You will be seeing this in campaign flyers. But other decisions are better left to professionals.

Anonymous said...

Of course John Brownpants needs a PR rep. Did you ever hear him speak in public? Terrible, and unbelievable. He starts to cry as if it's written into the speech. 78 grand is not enough to shine this turd!

Bernie O'Hare said...

He's really hard to follow. Corporatese, I call it. But Plyler has just made things worse. This is not a corporation. It is a third class county government.

Anonymous said...

He envisions himself as a corporate ceo! He believes his own hype and ego. This is crazy and a very inefficient way to conduct a county business plan. It get screwier by the day in the building on the hill. He apparently has sold his soul to the compay store..the Chamber and Big Don!

Anonymous said...

Brown is the woeful captain of the Titanic, rearranging the deck chairs as he steers into the iceberg.

Anonymous said...

How is it Barron is concerned about doing his job over this issue but working another job on County time was okay?
He'd still be doing it if Bernie hadn't caught him. He is quite selective when it comes to his job description. He is a weasel and cannot be trusted.....you only have to listen to him. Or catch him doing something he is not suppose to be doing. This is what the dems vote for....

Anonymous said...

Is that chin line drawn on? It looks like all neck.

Anonymous said...

He's all puckered up like he is ready to pass wind.

Anonymous said...

Brown must have went to the Panto school of politics and campaigning

Anonymous said...

And what grammar school did you go to?

Anonymous said...

I`M not a Barron fan but you have to give him some credit here. If Brown thinks those e mails were non or apolitical it shows you a lot about his character and judgment...all bad. If he just admitted it and stopped doing it no one would care and t son would be forgotten. To deny it leads one to believe he will lie about other things.

Anonymous said...

Nothing to see here. All the same games by all the other Executives. Who really thought this clown was going to be different?

Move on.

Anonymous said...

worst mayor ever, worst executive ever

Anonymous said...

Barron is like the big bad wolf with his threats and allegations.

"Let me in, or by the folds on my many chins I will huff and puff and blow your house in!"

Annoyed said...

Barron is certainly not the devil any of you paint him to be. I can guarantee not one of you hacks actually know him at all. You all speak with such authority but refuse to put your real names. You attack his physical appearance, name-call, and rehash a wrong that he righted. Come up with some new material.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I'll give Barron credit for uncovering these emails in what is essentially a frivolous suit. But rather than quietly handing them over to the DA for further review, he had to showboat at a council meeting. That is his flaw. He is a grand stander, a panderer, and leaps to conclusions he should not make.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Anon 9:27. You defend this fool and yet remain anonymous yourself. You must be real proud to be one of his few fans.