Lehigh Valley

No-bid PR job embroils Northampton County Council

NORTHAMPTON, Pa. - A deeply divided Northampton County Council voted along party lines Thursday night and voted down a move by Councilman Lamont McClure to repeal an $84,000 no-bid contract for a public relations company hired by County Executive John Brown.

McClure said the contract with Stahl Communications Inc. should have been put out for competitive bids. In arguing his case to repeal the contract McClure warned council that the matter "may wind up in court."

It was unclear how that could happen because McClure did not have the votes to nullify the contract.

In the end McClure's resolution was narrowly defeated, 5-4, in a party line vote with the Republican controlled council voting against him.

Along the way over the last two council meetings, McClure's attack on Brown's decision to hire the PR firm turned largely on the definition of what constitutes "professional services."

That discussion became a 40 minute exercise at the last meeting, an exchange that a friend of McClure's who watched it on the Internet told him was painful.

McClure revisited the professional services issues again before the vote.

He downplayed Council President Peg Ferraro's suggestion that council consider clarifying the language in the Home Rule Charter and Administrative Code.

Phil Lauer, council's solicitor, offered the same advice, telling council "I encourage you to try to more tightly define these things."

McClure did not agree.

"It won't solve anything," McClure remarked.

Ferraro said the language in the code is overdue for "tweaking" and said after the meeting that Brown had done nothing that had not been done many times in the past by the county and that it had never been a problem.

Ferraro said the only reason it has become an issue now is "because someone chose to."

Councilman Kenneth Kraft questioned the financial soundness of spending $84,000 of tax payers dollars "to make the county executive look better." Ferraro said that judgment may rest at the voting booth.

Before the vote, Councilman Seth Vaughn remarked "we don't need a power play," or a "witch hunt," apparently referring to what could be described as a power struggle between the newly elected Brown and the newly-seated Republican controlled council, which replaced an eight-year reign by the Democrats.

McClure rejected the suggestion.

"It isn't a witch hunt," McClure said. "It's called doing my job."

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