NorCo controller drops lawsuit against county executive [The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.) :: ]
(Morning Call (Allentown, PA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Aug. 19--Northampton County Executive John Brown has won a legal fight with the county's controller over an outside consultant that Brown hired to be his public face to the media.
Controller Stephen Barron has withdrawn a lawsuit claiming that Brown overstepped his authority when he hired Sahl Communications under a $76,500 public-relations contract -- a decision Barron made after a Northampton County judge last month strongly questioned the basis for the suit.
"It didn't take much to read the tea leaves where Judge [Paula] Roscioli was going with the case," Barron said Tuesday.
The withdrawal represents a victory for Brown, a Republican who has fought in court and in council chambers for outside public relations help, a role that the executive traditionally shoulders on his own in Northampton County.
Barron and fellow Democrats on council have questioned whether a consultant is needed and whether it is being used to further Brown's political career as much as the county's interests -- allegations the executive has denounced as a partisan attack.
"The lawsuit was absurd from the beginning and should not have been filed to begin with," Brown said Tuesday, calling Barron's decision affirmation of that.
Brown said he never sought a battle with Barron or council over the contract.
"I've been pulled into this fight," said Brown, who blamed "personal, political agendas."
Sahl Communications was initially hired by the county in February for $84,000 to provide strategic planning and support for media relations, internal communications and public relations strategies. But Brown canceled that first contract, which was non-competitive, in April on the same day that Barron sued charging it ran afoul of procurement rules.
The $76,500 contract was entered in July after the county changed tacks and solicited bids, selecting Sahl Communications over a second public relations firm that also submitted a proposal. County Solicitor Victor Scomillio said the contract was valid and followed county code, with the administration prepared to defend that in court before Barron dropped his suit last week.
The controller's office had been seeking an injunction blocking the deal, charging it was tailor-made to avoid review by County Council, which has approval powers over agreements of more than $100,000. But during a hearing July 24, Roscioli bristled over the arguments that Barron's attorney made, calling them circuitous, contradictory and one "absurd."
Barron said that while the courtroom fight may be over, he continues to believe the consultant is a waste of taxpayer money.
"My lawsuit was about the process," Barron said. "The contract is still horrible."
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