Port Authority official, sister say they didn't know of bid

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An architectural firm owned by the sister of Port Authority board member Joseph Brimmeier tried to get a contract with the agency within months of Mr. Brimmeier's appointment to the board last year.

Architectural Innovations LLC submitted a proposal in May to provide architectural design services for the transit agency, about three months after Mr. Brimmeier was appointed by Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and confirmed by county council.

The company, of which Jan Brimmeier is owner and president, withdrew its proposal in June. There are varying accounts as to why.

Mr. Brimmeier said neither he nor his sister was aware that Architectural Innovations had submitted the proposal. He said when authority general counsel Joel Lennen brought it to his attention, he called his sister and told her to withdraw it.

"I said, 'Jan, you can't do this.' She said, 'I didn't even know about it,'" Mr. Brimmeier said in an interview Tuesday.

Ms. Brimmeier said a member of her staff submitted the proposal without telling her. When it crossed her desk later, she said, "I had an awareness that he might be on the board." She said after calling her brother and confirming it, "I stopped it."

Ms. Brimmeier also said she was unaware that her nephew -- Mr. Brimmeier's son, Joseph, who also works for Architectural Innovations -- attended an informational meeting that Port Authority hosted about the contract, which is worth up to $3.5 million.

Authority board chairman Jack Brooks said he spoke with Mr. Brimmeier about his sister's proposal after learning about it from the authority staff and that "he said to me she didn't know she was bidding on it."

"All I did is clarify and said it can't be done," Mr. Brooks said.

"That is an absolute lie," Mr. Brimmeier said. "Jack Brooks never talked to me about it."

The authority issued a public request for proposals in April, hosted the informational session on May 1 and set a May 21 deadline for companies to submit their offers. Because architectural design is a professional service, the authority is not legally obligated to select the lowest bidder.

Architectural Innovations submitted its proposal on the deadline date but withdrew it less than a month later. A June 13 letter from the Port Authority to Ms. Brimmeier confirmed that the company had withdrawn.

The board in July awarded a three-year contract with two option years to two companies rated the best by an in-house evaluation committee -- DRS Architects and Maynes Associates Architects LLC. The companies will provide up to $3.5 million in services on an as-needed basis.

Since joining the authority board, Mr. Brimmeier, former CEO of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, has raised objections at public meetings to authority contracting practices -- particularly when the agency has sought to renew existing contracts rather than solicit new proposals.

He has said the agency should do a better job of spreading its business around.

In Tuesday's interview, Mr. Brimmeier noted that it would have been legal for his sister's company to get a Port Authority contract, provided he abstained from the board vote to approve it.

"I didn't even want that appearance to take place," he said.

During his tenure at the turnpike, Mr. Brimmeier occasionally drew criticism for hiring or directing business to relatives and friends.

In 2007, an online publication devoted to coverage of toll roads disclosed that Mr. Brimmeier had hired a cousin as a turnpike plumber, his godmother's son as an information technology employee (later firing him for not coming to work) and other relatives, and directed the company renovating turnpike service plazas to put a friend's hot dog shop in one of them.

Mr. Brimmeier is a longtime Democratic Party operative who was appointed to the turnpike post by former Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell and served for the eight years of Mr. Rendell's terms. He retired at the end of 2010. Before that, he served as chief of staff to former U.S. Rep. Ron Klink, also a Democrat.

High-ranking Port Authority officials who have asked not to be identified have said Mr. Fitzgerald is trying to engineer the firing of the current CEO, Steve Bland, so that Mr. Brimmeier can replace him.

Mr. Bland serves at the pleasure of the nine-member board but would be owed a half-year's salary, or $92,500, if he is dismissed without cause.

The board had been scheduled to vote on whether to fire Mr. Bland on Friday, but postponed its meeting for a week.

Mr. Fitzgerald's spokeswoman, Amie Downs, has said he does not comment on personnel matters.

"I'm not commenting on any of that," Mr. Brimmeier said Tuesday of speculation that he would succeed Mr. Bland. "That's up to the rest of the board members."

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Jon Schmitz: jschmitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1868. Visit the PG's transportation blog, The Roundabout, at www.post-gazette.com/Roundabout. Twitter: @pgtraffic.


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