Pittsburgh police purchase of uniforms questioned
Share with others:
Questions about Pittsburgh Bureau of Police financial procedures have led some city officials to renew concerns raised last year about the purchase, for more than $60,000, of uniforms from a Kentucky company with no city contract, despite the existence of a competitively bid pact with a Lawrenceville firm.
The bureau last year sought to put uniform purchases through in piecemeal fashion, rather than in larger amounts that would have required competitive bids, until city Councilman Patrick Dowd forced a public airing of issues. At an October council meeting, then-police Chief Nate Harper attributed the choice of vendor to Tammy Davis, second-in-command in the bureau's personnel and finance office, who is now off on paid administrative leave.
Last year, Mr. Dowd said on Friday, "a lot of people explained to me that [the off-contract uniform buy] was an isolated issue, this wasn't a common practice."
But questions about bureau financial practices that have emerged since prompted him to rethink that. "At this point, I certainly have to wonder if there aren't other issues."
The city began a contract with North Eastern Uniforms & Equipment Inc., based on 51st Street, in 2010. That contract runs through June 30.
So why did the city pay $60,329 in 2012 for purchases from Galls, a uniform company based in Lexington, Ky., that is a subsidiary of the global giant Aramark?
Assistant Chief of Operations Maurita Bryant said she became frustrated with North Eastern several years into the contract. Pittsburgh police officers would sometimes ask North Eastern for one brand of uniform only to receive another, she said. "It was like a little switcheroo thing."
North Eastern CEO George Kenny disputed Chief Bryant's claims, saying former Assistant Chief of Operations William Bochter "changed some of the specifications and the rest of the department wasn't aware of it."
City officials asked Allegheny County to bid out a new contract that would include tight specifications for city police uniforms. The county handles competitive bidding for the city.
The county sent invitations to more than 100 companies and gave them an initial due date of March 21, 2012, which was postponed several times, with April 25 being the final due date.
But on March 30, as the county awaited bids, Mr. Harper sent a memo to all bureau personnel informing them that Galls would take orders and measurements for uniforms on April 3, 4 and 5.
Mr. Harper tried to explain that decision at the October council meeting. Flanked by Ms. Davis, Chief Bryant and bureau finance manager Sandra J. Ganster, the chief said: "Galls, who said that they could supply us with our uniforms, was contacted by Tammy Davis, so we began purchasing uniforms from Galls without a contract in place."
Warner Macklin III, crisis manager for Ms. Davis, said he was not sure how she learned of Galls.
"Everything that Tammy Davis did with those agreements was above board," he said, "and she had specific permission to move ahead in her duties dealing with those contracts from both former Chief Harper and current acting Chief McDonald."
Mr. Harper has not responded to numerous requests for interviews, and his attorney on Friday declined to comment.
Back at the county purchasing office, three companies, including Galls, placed bids to supply the city with uniforms. (North Eastern declined to bid, noting that it already had a contract with the city.) But then city officials told the county that they weren't going to sign with any of them.
Council, meanwhile, approved steadily rising invoices for Galls uniforms. The final approved payment of $1,926 was just below council's $2,000 limit for paying non-contract invoices. Then Mr. Dowd prompted his colleagues to stop paying the bills, and over the next three months $54,561 in unpaid Galls bills piled up.
Council in October agreed to pay those charges, although Mr. Dowd and council President Darlene Harris voted no. The bureau stopped buying uniforms with Galls and went back to North Eastern.
Chief Bryant said service from North Eastern is "a lot better than it was."
The bureau this year has faced a steady stream of questions, some focused on Mr. Harper, Ms. Davis and other department employees.
The two were among the five organizers of a business, Diverse Public Safety Consultants, that recently ceased operating after receiving an order from Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. Both had debit cards tied to an unauthorized account at the Greater Pittsburgh Police Federal Credit Union, which, according to several accounts, was funded with money paid by private entities to cover officers' secondary detail work.
Mr. Harper resigned last month, at the urging of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, shortly after the FBI and U.S. attorney's office questioned him about the credit union accounts. The mayor has said he is only a witness.
Besides Ms. Davis, Ms. Ganster and two others are also on paid administrative leave.
The process by which the bureau bought from Galls still rankles some city officials.
Piecemealing expenses into small chunks is "clearly one of the ways that departments have found to avoid process," said city Controller Michael Lamb, a Democratic candidate for mayor. "It doesn't follow the normal process of what we do."
"It's a nonsensical way of doing business," Mr. Dowd said. "Theoretically, you're not going to get the best price. If you have a contract that's competitively bid, you guarantee that you're getting the things you want at the best price. The bureau had purchased off-contract, and quite frankly illegally, these uniforms."
First Published March 16, 2013 12:00 am