Northampton County - McClure blasts GPA over legal bills
The county’s General Purpose Authority (GPA) was originally established as a conduit for pass-through loans by universities and hospitals. It also offered small loans. But when former Executive John Brown designated this authority to administer what really is the county’s $38 million bridge building project, the problems began..
It started the year with a Sunshine Act violation, ducking into executive session without explaining why. Review of the minutes revealed that authority Solicitor John Lushis was tapped by Brown to work on other P3 projects and provide “special legal services.” This was done without the knowledge of county council and in apparent violation of the county’s own administrative code. The GPA also voted to pay Chair Shawn Langen $200 per hour to check the work being done by a third party engineer whose job is to check up on the bridge contractor, Kriger Construction.
In an intervew, Langen said that the GPA and Lushis intended to market P3 projects to other municipalities.
In response to a Right-to-Know request, this reporter learned that Lushis’s law firm, Norris, McLaughlin and Marcus, billed the county $3,390 for six copyrights that were identified as the property of that firm, and not Northampton County or the GPA. Langen had submitted a bill for $11,950 to check the work being done by the checker. Finally, and most significantly, Norris, McLaughlin and Marcus had billed and received $813,000 in 2016 and 2017.
This expenditure was buried in the jail budget
At its April 10 meeting, the GPA refused to recognize Charles Dertinger, the county’s second highest ranking official, when he approached them with information they had just finished complaining they had not received. They also voted to hire a Philadelphia law firm for litigation with the county without seeking proposals from anyone. They may have already paid this firm a $10,000 retainer.
During this meeting, they also voted to approve five invoices submitted by Norris, McLaughlin and Marcus, including a bill for $34,000 to respond to three Right-to-Know requests (Two from this reporter, one from The Morning Call). At that time, there still was no complete response to these requests.
I have it now, and it is a joke. I intend to appeal.
What does Executive Lamont McClure make of all this?
He answered that question in his report to council April 19. He called the GPA a “rogue authority” and said the John Lushis bills are an outrage. While saying he’d like to avoid litigation, he made clear that GPA’s role in the P3 project needs to be lessened. He has refused to pay Langen’s bill and took council member Peg Ferraro, a GPA Board member, to task. “Now Ms. Ferraro, you’re on the GPA. You were at that last meeting. You saw a bill and I think you voted to approve it, $34,000 to do a Right-to-Know request We do Right-to-Know requests all the time around here, and we don’t spend $34,000 on them, I was also very disappointed that the GPA voted to use public money to sue this county or to hire a special counsel to do that. That’s very, very unfortunate.
Ferraro asked McClure to sit down with the GPA as he did with the Gaming Board.He said he would, and would be at the next meeting himself.