Monday, July 09, 2018
NMM Response And Analysis
Above is the five-page response that Norris, McLaughlin and Marcus (NMM) provided in reaction to Northampton County Council's June 18 resolution, requesting that firm's removal as Solicitor to the General Purpose Authority. All this lengthy missive does is confirm that former Executive John Brown was doing an end-run around County Council.
Fee Agreement Approved by GPA? - According to this missive, the GPA approved a fee agreement with NMM on 9/6/16, agreeing to pay $295 per hour to the firm's lawyers. Here's my problem.
- The minutes of the 9/6/16 GPA meeting provide absolutely no support for that claim. They show that the GPA resolved to hire Kriger Construction and Alfred Benesh as contractor and construction manager for a P3 bridge project. But there is nothing to indicate that Lushis and his firm were hired at a specific rate.
- Fiscal Affairs Director Steve Barron had no knowledge of this fee arrangement. The only one he has seen is one that agrees to pay Lushis $200 per hour for regular work and, oddly enough, $250 per hour to respond to a Right-to-Know request.
- I filed two Right-to-Know requests in early January, seeking all fee agreements. Nothing was provided. Not even redacted fee agreements. So I question when this fee agreement was actually executed.
- Even if this fee agreement exists, it has nothing to do with the "special legal services" in which NMM began working on a P3 jail project. That's because that work only began in 2017.
Nobody Complained. - It's certainly true that former Executive John Brown had no complaints with bills that current Executive Lamont McClure has called "outrageous." Nor did anyone who worked for Brown. Here's why.
- Anyone who worked for Brown and complained would be out of a job.
- The GPA never actually approved these bills. They merely forwarded them to Brown. He would approve payment, and the check would be cut to the GPA, not Lushis. So only a few people knew what was going on.
The bills were reasonable. - NMM offers the same argument made by GPA Chair Shawn Langen that, given the scope of work involved, this was a "reasonable" fee. NMM seems to have trouble identifying how much it charged and was paid. I have claimed it received over $800,000 from the GPA in 2016 and 2017. NMM defenders have at times claimed different amounts. NMM cheerleader Dave Hughes, told Council last month that the figure was only $607,000. In its response, NMM has several different figures. Art one point, it's $521,900. Then it's $577,580.
The actual figure is what I said it is, and it is outrageous.
Did Council Appropriate $500,000 to pay NMM? - According to NMM, County Council set aside $500,000 in its 2017 budget for the replacement of the jail. As Council knows, that is a complete fabrication. Council member John Cusick himself observed that the $500,000 was set aside to update a jail study. Without Council's knowledge, former Executive Brown spent $153,000 to pay for "special legal services" being performed by NMM for a P3 jail.
NMM's Special Legal Services Needed Council Approval. - NMM insists that the $153,000 in special legal services for a P3 jail was completely proper because it was authorized by the GPA Board in May 2017. At this point, Northampton County Council had never agreed to a P3 jail and knew nothing about it. Moreover, as GPA Chair Shawn Langen said, GPA would only work on a new P3 if it was "fully vetted and approved by county council." That never happened. Yet NMM was submitting bills for work that not the GPA, but Brown, wanted done. This was very clearly a violation of Northampton County's Administrative Code. Brown is definitely culpable. NMM was certainly a hog at the trough, and there is little doubt in my mind that Lushis knew damn well that Brown was doing an end run. As someone who actually researched the potential conflicts, and billed the county for it, he should have known.
NMM admits the $700 per hour bill was a mistake. - In its letter, NMM admits that the $700 per hour fee charged by one of its lawyers was an error and it is willing to make a refund. Actually, this lawyer has no license to practice in Pa., and this NMM should be refunding the entire sum that was improperly paid by Executive Brown.
NMM Denies Improper P3 Marketing. - I question this assertion. other sources tell me that Lushis has made several P3 pitches in Northampton County
I see no material misrepresentations in Council's June 18 resolution. I do see misrepresentations in NMM's response.
This may all be academic at this point.there will soon be two new GPA members, and they will give Executive Lamont McClure control. They can fire the collection firm that really is there to collect NMM's bill. They can then fire Lushis and force Shawn Langen out as GPA Chair.