Less than 24 hours after criticizing the county executive for his handling of the county’s bus contract situation, two Rockland County Legislators were back at it Wednesday afternoon in a press conference.
Legislators Ed Day and Frank Sparaco were joined by Richard Brega Jr., owner of Brega Transport, to further discuss a resolution passed Tuesday night, as well as the contract situation. At Tuesday’s meeting, many legislators criticized County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef for overruling the legislature’s override.
The legislature awarded two bids, for Transport of Rockland (TOR) and Tappan ZEExpress, to Brega in September of last year only for the county exec to veto it. They overrode his veto, and then Vanderhoef ordered the canceling of the contract. The case went to the state Supreme Court, and last week Justice Francis Nicolai, of Putnam, said Vanderhoef “violated lawful procedure in canceling the contract,” according to a resolution the legislature passed at Tuesday’s meeting.
On Wednesday, Day read some of the ruling, one part where Nicolai said Vanderhoef “acted in a rogue, unlawful and illegal act” by directing the county purchasing commissioner to cancel the proposed contract for the request for bid.
“What we’re saying here today is enough,” Day said. “It’s enough to the disregard of the legislative branch of government. We are saying enough to the further spending of taxpayer dollars on a matter that should be closed. We are saying enough to any attempt to award this transportation contract to another firm when a bid from a local company, Brega Transport, is approximately $6 million less than the second lowest bidder. The judge was quite clear, and he used stark language to support it. It would be irresponsible to, in our view, to ignore it.”
The resolution that passed Tuesday night asks the county attorney and county executive to comply with court ruling. It was amended after a suggestion from Legislator Alden Wolfe to say that the legislature, the appropriating branch of government, will not under any circumstances authorize the expenditure of any additional taxpayer money for outside counsel in relation to the case, should the county executive want to appeal the decision. The resolution was sent to the court and outside counsel involved as well.
Both Day and Sparaco spoke a lot about Vanderhoef’s actions in the bid process and were angry at his handling of it.
“We’re equal branches of government, and there’s a charter and there’s rules and there’s law,” Sparaco said. “When we overrode Scott Vanderhoef’s veto on this matter, that should’ve been the end of it. For him to violate that is a violation of law and Judge Nicolai says so in his ruling. You cannot just disregard the legislative branch of government.”
During Tuesday night’s meeting, Sparaco brought up that the disregard on the legislature seems worthy of looking into the impeachment process. On Wednesday, Sparaco said he didn’t plan on pursuing that further, but said the legislature should look into amending its charter to ensure a similar situation can’t play out.
“There should be regulations in our charter that will prevent this from happening in the future, that we should have some sort of impeachment policy to prevent a rogue county executive from disregarding an equal branch of government and to protect the people of Rockland County from that type of insanity,” he said.
Sparaco also ripped the Request For Bid (RFB) and Request For Proposals (RFP) sent out in relation to the bus contract. He said they changed frequently.
“I feel that they, a lot of the requirements, were trying to push that bid toward a specific company,” Sparaco said. “There were requirements that Judge Nicolai ruled illegal that were put in it that basically said you had to have a certain technology, and then when the other companies went out to buy the technology it turned out that this certain company had a patent on this technology, that you couldn’t buy this technology if you wanted to. So, essentially, the only one that could qualify for this bid was this one company that it seemed to me that the administration and our purchasing department were trying to move this bid towards since day one, essentially excluding Mr. Brega and any other bidders.”
The county has an appeal out about a Nicolai ruling that the bid was unfair to Brega, but no decision has been made as of this week.
Sparaco also called it unfathomable that so much could be done to try and precent a local company from getting the contract, as Brega operates out of Spring Valley. MV is based in Dallas, and during the bidding process it came out that the company planned on building a location in Rockland, which was required. Day said there was a point system used in the bidding process, and MV earned the same number of points for planning to have a location in Rockland as Brega did for actually having operations already based in the county.
“They didn’t even have a lease, but they were given the same points,” Sparaco said. “How is that legal? How is that fair? How is that just?”
Brega thanked the legislators for their backing of him and his company during the last two years while the bidding process was going on.
“It’s frustrating as can be, as you can all imagine, to go on for two years through something like this when you have been the lowest bidder, and every time you’re the lowest bidder, the county executive throws out the bid and starts it all over again,” Brega said. “So I am quite pleased that the highest court of the state of New York, the supreme court, has ruled in my favor three times. I think that’s pretty unprecedented. I had never heard of somebody winning three times in a row, especially against a municipality. So obviously something’s wrong.”
It was originally reported that all three bids were going to be thrown out because they didn’t meet the qualifications of the bid, but Brega said his company met the qualifications needed for the bid, and that not all aspects of the bid seemed intended for everyone.
“We have met every condition that was within the bid specification. That’s why the legislature has awarded Brega Transport the contract,” he said. “If you want to step back for a half a second to see how crazy all of this is, Coach USA is the current provider of the transportation. They’ve been running the service for approximately 26 to 30 years, and you’re going to tell me they didn’t meet the qualifications and weren’t responsible either? It’s pretty hard to believe that the person that’s running the service and has been doing so successfully for approximately 30 years can’t get it right either. So is there anyone in the eyes of the county executive, other than possibly the organization he wanted to award it to, who can comply? Evidently not, but the courts feel so. The legislature feels so.”
Another reason the legislators are upset over the bid process so far is money. They said the Brega contract is about $6 million lower than the next closest big. The last contract also expired on Dec. 31 of last year, and Coach is operating the transportation services currently without a longterm contract, costing the county about $28,000 more per month than had the contract with Brega started. Sparaco also said he was told the county has spent in excess of $200,000 on legal fees dealing with the bus contract situation so far, and Brega said he’s spent around $500,000 on legal fees so far in relation to the case.
The county executive didn’t return a call seeking a response to the legislature’s ruling Tuesday night and if he’ll appeal the decision, however on Wednesday, County Attorney Jeffrey Fortunato released a statement that read:
“This is a matter of law and administration. I took an oath to uphold the law and integrity of processes administered by the county. The court has ruled incorrectly in two separate cases endangering the county’s procurement process. This process concerns more than just the bus contract, it has implications for every contract entered into by the county of Rockland. As to the bus company, failure to uphold the process by which it is awarded could result in the FTA refusing to provide funding. It is my duty to uphold the integrity of that process and I intend to do so.”