Task force turns attention to high-level Orange County legislators in probe of controversial contract
A task force made up of four Orange County legislators turned their attention toward high-level county officials as it investigates a contract that has paid the county's human resource commissioner's brother-in-law more than $400,000 over eight months.
The task force was established after State Sen. James Skoufis and four county legislators publicly called for the resignation of HR commissioner Langdon Chapman.
Those four Democratic county legislators who joined Skoufis, a Democrat, at an October press conference to criticize the contract testified at Monday's meeting of the task force.
The task force also questioned Orange County Director of Operations Alicia D'Amico, Deputy County Executive Harry Porr and County Attorney Richard Golden.
D'Amico recounted a short conversation with Chapman about Chapman's brother-in-law Isaac Sacolick, who was later awarded the contract to assess the county's IT capabilities and help digitally transform the county's system.
"We were very up-front that this was a short contract. It was intended to be a short contract," D'Amico told the task force.
D'Amico said Chapman recommended Sacolick – of the company StarCIO – for the job, later disclosed their relationship and then stayed out of the procurement process.
County officials gave Sacolick a two-month contract worth $65,000 in January. The contract was extended several times, running up a bill of more than $400,000.
Skoufis and the four legislators who are backing him looked into the contract after hearing about it from a whistleblower from inside county government, and then held the October press conference calling out Chapman.
During his testimony before the task force last week, Chapman mentioned Skoufis and the other legislators by name, lambasting them one by one, claiming they came after him for political reasons.
One reason he mentioned was that he hired one of Skoufis's past political opponents.
"This is just more noise from Skoufis," Chapman said of the senator's allegations. "Throw up allegations against the wall, prove nothing, and hope anything sticks."
County Legislator Genesis Ramos, one of the four backing Skoufis, said after Monday's meeting she felt the need to respond to some of Chapman's attacks and reiterate that her grievances are about fairness, not politics.
"This is about getting to the bottom of what we, meaning myself and my colleagues who brought this forward, believe to be impropriety with this contract," Ramos said.
Orange County Attorney Richard Golden told the task force Monday that contracts initially under $100,000 are not required to be bid out, even after they are renewed many times over leading the final bill to be well over the threshold for a single contract.
Golden said that in procuring the controversial contract, county officials followed their own procurement policy, their ethics policy and state law.
Golden did say, though, county administrators are open to change.
"If people want to have things done differently, then they need to change the rules on upon which all the department heads rely upon," he said.
The task force will interview County Executive Steve Neuhaus at 1 p.m. Tuesday. Then the four members will produce a report on their findings, which may include recommendations for policy changes.
The report should take two to three weeks to finish, the task force chairman said.
Orange County legislature creates task force to investigate so-called sweetheart contract for top official’s brother-in-law