It's a case of deja vu for Northampton County Executive John Brown, who has been slapped with a second lawsuit stemming from his hiring of a communications firm, and both suits were filed by the county controller.
The latest lawsuit was filed late Tuesday afternoon. Brown has rehired Sahl Communications with the goal of developing and implementing a communications plan for the county, but the county controller, Stephen Barron, said Brown still didn't go about it the right way.
Brown first hired Sahl Communications in the spring, but that contract was terminated after Barron filed a lawsuit, saying the hiring violated the county home rule charter and administrative code.
“These are all matters that are defined in the charter," said Brown. "We’re following what’s empowered to me in the charter.”
Then, Brown put the communications job out for bid and ended up rehiring Sahl, so Barron filed a new lawsuit.
In the suit, Barron still contends Brown is hiring a company to handle responsibilities of a cabinet member Brown has yet to hire.
“He’s contracting away the basic core functions of a director of administration, and he really just can’t do that,” said Barron.
Brown said communications is just one part of the administrator position, and even though Brown has asked other departments to cut back on spending for the next 2015 budget cycle, he said this contract is for the good of the county.
“Out of a $343 million budget, you’re going to pull out a straw and go, 'OK, this straw doesn’t fit here,'” added Brown.
The only people who will be out of more money is taxpayers as this lawsuit moves forward.
Barron said the lawsuit could be dropped if Brown puts the issue in front of council.
“That was communicated to John Brown," said Barron. "That is if council had a meaningful debate, discussion, and vote that a lawsuit would probably be a moot point.”
“I’m not sure that even if I did follow that, it would go away," countered Brown. "So, as far as I’m concerned, we’ll continue down the path with Sahl and we’ll let the process take care of itself at this point.”
We also contacted Sahl Communications. The CEO told 69 News she hasn't received a copy of the lawsuit and can't comment.