Lehigh Valley

In face of lawsuit, Northampton County Executive John Brown ends no-bid contract

EASTON, Pa. - In the face of a lawsuit, Northampton County Executive John Brown has ended an $84,000 no-bid contract he had awarded to Sahl Communications for public relations services.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday by Northampton County Controller Stephen Barron Jr., sought to have the Feb. 8 contract voided and incremental payments to Sahl Communications immediately stopped.

But now, it appears the lawsuit is a moot point.

In a prepared statement, Brown said he actually made a decision on Monday to sever ties with Sahl Communications. According to Brown's statement, he made the decision following a meeting with his legal team and advisers.

"We came to this conclusion prior to learning about Mr. Baron's decision to file suit," Brown said in the prepared statement. "I met with Mr. Barron on Monday morning and told him I would respond back to him after considering his request. After decisions with legal council and the contractor, Sahl Communications, I decided it was in the best interest of the county to withdraw the agreement."

In response to Brown's statement, Barron said that until he receives an executive order from Brown that the contract has been withdrawn, his lawsuit stands.

The lawsuit claims Brown violated the county's administrative code by awarding the one-year contract without competitive negotiations. The suit also alleges the contract "provides no clear statement of its purpose or scope."

The lawsuit was the latest move in a battle that raged right after Brown awarded the contract to Sahl Communications to handle county communications.

The contract came under heavy fire during a long discussion at the March 6 County Council meeting.

During that meeting, some on council called the executive order illegal and said it should have gone through the bidding process.

"I think if you are going to pay Sahl Communications and Ms. Plyer $84,000 in one year, I would hope you say that the services she is going to provide the county are professional services," added Councilman Lamont McClure.

McClure drafted a resolution to repeal the contract because he said the services should have gone through the bidding process.

"When you're spending $84,000 of taxpayer money on a public relations consultant, you ought to bid that out competitively," added McClure.

Northampton County Executive John Brown hired Sahl Communications through an executive order to handle county communications.

During that same March 6 meeting, Northampton County Solicitor Victor Scomillio 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.

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