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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Democratic lawmakers ask Riley not to sign contract, push for more review power



Two Democratic state senators are asking Gov. Bob Riley not to sign a $13 million computer contract and are planning to introduce legislation that would give more power to legislative contract review committee.
State Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, and Sen. Quinton Ross, D-Montgomery, said they will introduce bills during the 2010 legislative session that would give the review committee 90 days to hold up and review a contract instead of the current time of 45 days.
A second proposal would require all of those who receive contracts of $7,500 or more to disclose subcontractors on the Web.
The senators said the changes would increase transparency.
"We're glad to see the Democrats say they're going to at last include some type of accountability reforms in their agenda," said Jeff Emerson, communications director for Riley. He said Democrats did not include a single ethics or accountability bill when they introduced their legislative agenda for 2010 earlier this year.
"When asked by the press why their 2010 agenda didn’t include any reforms, they responded that they think Alabamians don't care about those issues. Now the Democrats have decided they're going to try to be ethical. It's a start."
Spokesmen for Riley, a Republican, expect him to sign the amended contract with Paragon Source LLC that could pay the company a total of $12.9 million including the more than $5.5 million that has already been paid to the company.
The chairman of the contract review committee, state Rep. Alvin Holmes, delivered the contract to Riley's office on Monday, the end of the 45-day period that the committee could delay the proposed deal.
Bedford said the contract review committee is the last safeguard and is a check to help monitor the millions in no bid contracts used by state government.
Bedford, Ross, Holmes, the Alabama Democratic Party, and a former member of Riley's cabinet have questioned the contract with Paragon. They are not aware of any wrongdoing, but are suspicious of the agreement. Paragon has no Web site and no listed phone number or e-mail address, and lists its headquarters as personal residences in Virginia and in east Montgomery.
Officials with the Riley administration have pointed out no-bid contracts requested by Democrats and approved by the review panel, which has a Democratic majority.
One of the contracts they listed was another no bid contract with the address listed as a personal residence. During its last meeting, the panel approved the contract requested by the Senate president pro tem's office with Douglas Simms of Montgomery for $10,119 to "create, host and maintain a Web site for the Alabama Senate President Pro Tempore."
When a reporter mentioned that contract to Holmes, D-Montgomery, on Monday, just before he took the contract to Riley and asked him not to sign it, the legislator laughed.
"He's not concerned about the $13 million, but he’s concerned about the $10,000," Holmes responded.
The list provided by Riley’s office included, among others, a contract for Senate Majority Leader Zeb Little, D-Cullman, with former Sen. Bill Drinkard, who was pardoned in 2005 for his conviction for involvement in a kickback scheme a decade earlier. The state pays Drinkard $50,000 through a no-bid contract to "advise, consult and assist the Alabama Senate Majority leader."
Other contracts requested and received by Democrats include a $48,000 contract to develop an internet communications system; $12,000 to organize and present seminars; $49,000 for legislative help for the House majority leader; $40,000 for consulting services; $75,000 for legal work related to the stimulus bill; $75,000 for legal work related to employment issues; $47,500 for consulting on prisons; and $82,200 for media and public relations for the lieutenant governor's office.
There were also $350,000 no bid contracts for security personnel for the State House.
Ross and Bedford said large and small contracts should be scrutinized and include information about who is being paid, how much they are receiving and what work is done for the money.
Ross said, in talking about the contract with Simms, that he has not submitted an invoice, but that he should include one with the hours he has worked and the work he has performed to be paid.
He said Paragon has not been forthcoming with the information legislators have requested, even after a subpoena was issued.
Paragon and the state Department of Finance delivered documents to the committee after subpoenas were issued requesting information on who was paid through the contracts, how much they received, where they lived, and what work was done for the money.
Holmes said on Monday that there is little information on what work was performed for the money and there is no information on which the subcontractors were paying to do the work.
"They should be able to give an accounting of the work they've done," Ross said.
The administration and the Democratic lawmakers disagree over whether Paragon had the authority to hire subcontractors to perform the work.
Administration officials have said no one has questioned the quality of the work performed by Paragon. The company has helped the state, over the last two years, develop a blueprint to try to overhaul the state's computer system used for financial functions including payroll and purchasing.
The system has yet to be overhauled and no equipment has been purchased with the more than $5.5 million paid to Paragon, but the amended contract with the remainder of the $12.9 million would include work to update part of the system and money to help prepare for any audit of the federal stimulus funds received by the state.

-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen

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