|Controller Steve Barron|
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 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.