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County executive’s push for $84,000 PR job miffs Northampton Council

By Joe McDonald, WFMZ.com Reporter, news@wfmz.com
Published On: Mar 06 2014 11:32:02 PM CST
Updated On: Mar 07 2014 04:50:52 AM CST
Northampton County council meeting
EASTON, Pa. -

Barely three months into his new job as  Northampton County Executive, John Brown came under fire Thursday night for his remarks about years of “mismanagement” in the county and for his recent decision to give a no-bid contract to a public relations company for $84,000 a year.

Councilman Robert Werner chastised Brown, who took office in January, for comments he made at a press conference. Brown said there had been eight to 10 years of “mismanagement” in Northampton County.

Werner told Brown his remarks were a “slap in the face to some people." And then, Werner, like a boss laying down the law to an out of line underling, said, “You don’t insult the integrity …” of the county’s leadership.

It was the no-bid contract hiring Sahl Communications Inc. of Bethlehem that consumed most of council’s meeting.

Councilman Lamont McClure, who told Brown his administration has been “off to a rocky start,” attempted to have the Sahl contract repealed.

But after extensive legal discussion on what constitutes a professional service and whether Sahl’s services would fall under that definition, the matter was tabled until council’s next meeting.

Victor Scomillio, the solicitor for the county executive, said the county has a long history of approving professional services, no-bid contracts like the one for Sahl.

The county code requires a bidding process for professional services, which Scomillion said is more a “term of art” than a bright line definition.

Scomillio said Brown’s decision to award the contract to Sahl was on solid legal footing.

The fine points of the debate did not sway Werner, who claimed Brown was hiring firms like Sahl as “a way of hiding behind consultants.”

Last month, council shot down Brown’s attempt to hire a financial consultant for $715,200 over the next four years.

Council President Peg Ferraro said the underlying problem in the Sahl contract may be in the language used in the county code to describe, clearly, what constitutes a professional service.

Phil Lauer, the solicitor for council, agreed.