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Legislators Quarrel Over Law Firm Designation

OSWEGO, NY – Some members of the county’s Health and Human Services Committee were irked Wednesday when Legislator Art Gearsbeck accused them of wasting taxpayers’ money.

“I think we should be going out to bid on this,” he said of picking a legal firm for the DSS. “I think we could save $100,000 a year

Legislator Art Gearsbeck
Legislator Art Gearsbeck

on this. This has been a problem for years.”

For the past several years, the county has used the services of the same law firm.

There are other firms that could do the job for less money, according to Gearsbeck.

“Over the last 10 years we’ve probably wasted over $1 million on this,” Gearsbeck said.

“If you’re going to make statements like this, would you please offer substantiation,” said Legislator Jack Proud, committee chair.

“Wait a minute, Jack. You can hire an attorney for $50,000,” Gearsbeck interjected.

“To accuse us of waste of money, as you’re doing with no substantiation, just your opinion…” Proud began.

“I’ve looked at this ever since I got here. I’ve been here, this is my ninth year. I’ve been looking at this ever since then. Year after year I bring it up and every year you shoot it down,” Gearsbeck interrupted. “We need to address this. The taxpayer is getting ripped off here. You understand that?”

“That’s your opinion,” Proud replied.

“That’s right, it is,” Gearsbeck said.

Legislator Dan Chalifoux
Legislator Dan Chalifoux

“I’m tired of hearing it too, Art. You accuse all of us of being in bed with …” Legislator Dan Chalifoux started to say.

“So why don’t you put it out to bid for (explicative deleted)?” Gearsbeck interrupted.

“What are you going to put out for bid?” Chalifoux wanted to know.

“Put the legal contract out to bid,” Gearsbeck said. “What are you afraid of?”

“I’m not afraid of anything,” Chalifoux replied.

“I’ll make the motion then,” Gearsbeck proclaimed. “I’ll make the motion.”

“Motion to what?” Chalifoux asked.

“I’ll make the motion to put the contract out to bid,” Gearsbeck said.

“Show me the contract that we’re putting up. I want to read it before we put it up,” Chalifoux asked.

“Well, don’t you know about the contract?” Gearsbeck said.

“No, I don’t,” Chalifoux said.

“You’ve been here all these years and you don’t know about this, Danny?” Gearsbeck responded.

“I don’t know, Art,” he said.

“Why not?” Gearsbeck asked.

“Do you know?” Chalifoux asked. “What does the first page say?”

“I don’t know,” Gearsbeck replied.

“Oh, you don’t know! Did you read it?” Chalifoux asked.

“Well, I have,” Gearsbeck said.

“Well, what’s it say?” Chalifoux fired back. “You like to talk but you can’t walk the walk.”

“You’re no action. You just want to sit and do nothing,” Gearsbeck said.

To which his fellow legislator accused him of grandstanding in front of the media.

The county has chosen to send out Requests For Proposals for the work, Phil Church, county administrator, said.

The current five-year deal is about to conclude.

“We will have to go out for RFP next spring,” DSS Commissioner Fran Lanigan said. “The contract ends in 2010. It was put out for an RFP and we had two responses.”

The cost doesn’t increase during the life of the pact, Church noted.

“Actually, the price is less than it was 10 years ago,” Lanigan said. “And the workload at Family Court is escalated significantly. That’s part of what we’ll have to put into the next RFP, the work that is being done at Family Court.”

If the county seeks a new deal now, the costs would reflect the increased workload, Church pointed out.

“So the longer we stay with our current, which is based on a lesser workload, the better off the county is going to be,” he said. “My recommendation is to put it back out to RFP on schedule.”

“Art, my question is, if we’re getting a good job done, should we criticize them? I don’t think we should,” said Legislator Morris Sorbello.

“I’m asking to be fair and go out to bid on it,” Gearsbeck replied.

“We do send it out for RFP,” Sorbello said.

Legislator Jack Proud
Legislator Jack Proud

“This has been a no-bid contract forever,” Gearsbeck said.

“That’s not true. Again you’re making up an accusation that has absolutely no substantiation. We use RFPs on a consistent basis. It goes out; we have a list of firms that the RFPs go out to. As the commissioner indicated last time we had two responses,” Proud said. “We chose one out of the two. That’s far from a no-bid contract!”

The other bid was actually higher than the one the county went with, the commissioner pointed out.

Gearsbeck has the right to come and voice an opinion, Proud noted. But it would be greatly appreciated if he also had some kind of substantiation besides his own point of view to back it up, the chairman added.

“How many years have these people had this contract? Answer me that. You’ve been here forever. I bet they had it before you come here,” Gearsbeck said.

“And, again, it’s been voted on by the full legislature every time, Art,” Proud replied. “Every single time, it’s been voted on by the legislature.”

Gearsbeck then accused the legislature of not taking a bid that was $100,000 lower for the service.

“It’s not $100,000 cheaper, she just told you that. That’s your figure you’re throwing out for the benefit of the newspaper or the TV stations,” Chalifoux said. “You do that every meeting of the health committee, every meeting.”

Gearsbeck challenged him to check it out.

“I won’t check out anything. You have nothing to back it up,” Chalifoux said. “I don’t have to back it up. You do, you’re the one making accusations.”

“You don’t have to do anything, do you, Danny? You come here and do nothing,” Gearsbeck replied.

“You’re the one doing nothing!” Chalifoux said. “Your constituents are losing.”

The chairman asked if there were any further comments; there were none and a motion to adjourn was made and seconded.