January 18, 2013 —
“I screwed the process up, guilty.” Those were the words of Scott Samuelson, chair of the Sullivan County Legislature, at a meeting on January 17, regarding a resolution about an agreement with a firm named PKF O’Conner Davies, which has audited the county’s books for the past few years.
The county had formed a committee to review the responses to a request for proposals (RFP) for auditing the county’s books in 2013. The auditing committee, which was comprised of county treasurer Ira Cohen, county clerk Dan Briggs and Joshua Potosek, commissioner of management and budget, chose a company called Toski & Company over O’Conner Davies. The main reason the committee recommended Toski was because the initial bid was about $80,000 less than O’Conner Davies.
However, when the related resolution came before the legislature during an extended meeting when the final budget numbers were being negotiated on December 18, 2012, O’Conner Davies was the firm listed to receive the contract, and the legislature voted unanimously in favor.
When legislators subsequently learned that another company was the low bidder, several speculated that there had been intentional misrepresentation, and a final vote on the matter was tabled.
At the January 17 meeting, Samuelson said when the resolution was presented, he and the legislature were unaware that a recommendation had been made. He also said that O’Conner Davies had then lowered its bid and, given that the company had worked successfully with the county in the past and the respect the company had with the county, the legislators at the time thought the price might have been lowered enough so that O’Conner Davies could still win the contract.
This conversation occurred within a Democratic caucus and Samuelson noted that not all of the Democratic legislators were in the meeting the whole time. He said, “There was nothing malicious; there was nothing intentional. It was a misunderstanding. We were trying to do the right thing, at least in my brain.”
Legislator Cindy Gieger said she was concerned with being able to trust that the process worked in a way that would get relevant information to the legislators, in this case that Toski was the low bidder, before a vote was taken.
Cohen said, “The resolution was erroneous. How that happened, I don’t know. It was unintentional? That’s fine, but the resolution said we had recommended O’Conner Davies, when factually that wasn’t true.”
Legislator Cora Edwards said, “Well, if we’re looking at a resolution and we’re being led to believe that it’s the lowest bidder and it’s not, then you have to start questioning the whole process.”
Legislator Alan Sorensen said, “For me what’s troubling about the error, or lack of judgment on that resolution is that it was on the very day we had to make the decision to cut contract agencies, including the Boys and Girls Club, the YMCA, and the recommendation was made to award the bid to a firm where the proposal wasn’t just a little bit higher, but higher to the tune of $80,000. That’s a considerable savings.”
There was a discussion about whether it is proper to allow a company competing for county business to lower its bid, after the initial bids have been received.
Cohen said, “My reading of your current procurement policy is that it specifically authorizes and encourages that kind of conduct because it is beneficial to the county.”
The legislature plans to review the procedures for RFPs and the awarding of contracts over the coming weeks.