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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Lushis Billed $34,000 to Gather His legal Bills

In early January, after watching the Northampton County General Purpose Authority (GPA) thumb their noses at the Sunshine Act,with the blessing of Solicitor John Lushis, I became concerned. When I watched the entire video, I was appalled at how he just took over the meeting and the Board. It should be called the John Lushis authority, not the GPA. As a result of that Right-to-Know, we know that GPA Solicitor John Lushis and his law firm, Norris McLaughlin and Marcus, billed Northampton County at least $813,039.30 from their affiliation with the GPA in 2016 and 2017. And now,in another indication of just what kind of pigs they are, Lushis and his firm have billed the County $34,000 to respond to my two Right-to-Know requests, as well as a third filed by the Morning Call. The GPA just rubber stamped the bill for payment, even though Lushis and his firm have still failed to answer my request for information, and keep postponing a reply. I believe it's time that Northampton County surcharge him. He evidently realizes this, and that is why he conned the GPA into hiring "special counsel."

In addition to seeking these bills, I also requested correspondence as it relates to a jail at Gracedale. That has nothing to do with the GPA, but the Lushis bills reveal an inordinate amount of research and work related to a new jail at Gracedale. I am sure the correspondence will contain several smoking guns. Thanks to advances in technology, this information could be assembled in a matter of a few hours. I offered to sit down and review it all, from which I could determine what I needed to have copied. But I was primarily interested in the bills, and appear to have most of them.

They are damning. They confirm that Lushis was working on the side, not for the GPA, but for former Executive John Brown as some sort of secret Solicitor. Though he was still sending in bills through the GPA, these were for "special legal services." I confronted Lushis about this at February's GPA meeting, and he denied it. But GPA Chair Shawn Langen had previously told me that's exactly what happened. And I now have the bills, and some of them are marked for "special legal services."

Lushis was working for Brown on the sly because our former Exec liked to keep everyone in the dark. He never grasped the importance of transparency in government. Or working with Council. Unfortunately for Brown and Lushis both, they also failed to follow the law.

This law is contained in Northampton County's Administrative Code.  The only professional service agreements exempted from the Code are those negotiated by the courts or human services. § 13.01e. Professional services defined as "services requiring specialized knowledge, skill and expertise ... ." § 13.02. Procurement authority is vested in the County Executive, subject to approval by Council. § 13.03. All county services, including professional services, must be obtained by one of several forms of competitive negotiation. § 13.07a. Services in excess of $25,000 requires a written contract. § 13.16a. These contracts must be filed in the Procurement Department. § 13.16a. If they exceed $100,000, Council approval is needed. § 13.16c. Contracts for professional services must require that there be a final report provided directly to County Council. § 13.16f.

These requirements were flatly ignored. There was no competitive negotiation. There is no written contract, and nothing is on file in Procurement. Though Brown paid over $100,000, he never sought Council approval.  No final report was filed. This was a blatant end run around Council.

Section 13.21 of the Administrative Code provides,
"No elected or appointed official or employee of the County shall intentionally or knowingly circumvent the provisions of this Article. Further, that any such elected or appointed official or employee of the County of Northampton who shall intentionally and/or knowingly violate this Article shall be subject to surcharge to the extent of the damage shown to be thereby sustained by the County of Northampton, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon a conviction thereof, shall be sentenced to imprisonment of not more than one year or pay a fine of not more than $1,000, or both. Any contract entered into in violation of the within article shall not be binding upon the County of Northampton."
This was a serious transgression.

What are these "special legal services?"

Lushis was helping lay the groundwork for a jail at Gracedale in Upper Nazareth. You know, the one Brown eventually pledged never to build.

His bills tell quite the story.

On February 8, Lushis charged for participation in a two-hour meeting with Brown and Upper Nazareth Solicitor Gary Asteak. He and his firm also spent that month researching the application of zoning laws and also drafted legislation to enable the jail to be built as a P3 (public-private partnership) project.

In March, Lushis met with Senator Pat Browne to discuss legislation that would enable the jail to be built as a P3 project, and started lining up banks like American, First Northern, PNC and Embassy Bank as possible lenders. His firm drafted a zoning ordinance amendment for Upper Nazareth Tp. They researched whether the Upper Nazareth Zoning Ordinance is exclusionary. They also studied whether "essential government services" like a jail trumps local zoning.

Finally, March 27 arrived, the day of Brown's backroom meeting with Upper Nazareth Supervisors.

Lushis billed the county for ten hours that day. Other members of the Norris, McLaughlin  billed for another 13 hours.

Twenty-three hours for one day.

And the County paid for this meeting about which no one in the community knew anything.

In April and May, Senator Pat Browne was lobbied to enact legislation in which local zoning laws could be trumped for projects like a jail .

In July, Lushis was still preparing talking points about a jail at Gracedale. He and his firm also billed $2,730.00 for a 3.9 hour long "strategy telephone conference" based on a review of a 2008 entry in this very blog, in which different jail options were presented. That's the meeting in which Ron Angle, then Finance Chair, asked, "The reality here is, who the hell wants a new prison?"
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