The current Montgomery County Board of Commissioners marked its first 100 days in office Thursday morning with a special meeting that introduced new county ethics and procurement policies intended to increase transparency and eliminate patronage and corruption from county government.
Board chairman Josh Shapiro said Thursday marked the beginning of a "new era" for Montgomery County.
Reading from a prepared statement, Shapiro said the new procurement policy will "ensure a level playing field and a good value for the taxpayers" while the "totally revamped" ethics policy will "value integrity and not one's political agenda."
New procurement policy favors local businesses, punishes misconduct
The new procurement policy replaces a policy passed by then-commissioners James Matthews and Joseph Hoeffel in 2010. Current commissioner Bruce Castor, who served alongside Matthews and Hoeffel, voted against the adoption of the previous policy. The old policy was repealed by a resolution adopted immediately prior to the adoption of the new policy.
In keeping with the new administration's promises of increased transparency, the new procurement policy requires all county solicitations and awarded bids to be posted on the county's website.
Vendors that violate the policy's terms on ethical behavior or have been convicted of criminal offenses that could affect their responsibilities to the county under an existing contract can be suspended from doing business with the county for up to five years.
The procurement policy also contains provisions that give bidding advantages to businesses located in Montgomery County, small businesses, and "disadvantaged" businesses, such as those owned by minorities or other businesses that "have been deprived of the opportunity to develop and maintain a competitive position in the economy because of social disadvantages."
Ethics policy: No politics, and be careful on Facebook
The new ethics policy, which applies to all county employees, contains sections intended to eliminate the significance of an employee's political affiliation from the county's workplaces. Employees are prohibited from engaging in any political activity while on the job and may not identify themselves as a county employee while engaging in political activity during off-duty hours. Supervisors may not compel any employees under them to perform any political activities, and employees are not allowed to receive any benefits as a result of having performed a political task.
The policy's section on confidentiality specifically targets county employees' use of social media, such as Facebook. Employees are prohibited from "posting any items on social media platforms ... that relate to their employment with the county."
When asked whether the new policy would prevent employees from posting about a bad day at work or complaining about a disagreement with their boss, county solicitor Ray McGarry said that enforcement of the policy would be handled on a case-by-case basis by the county's Chief Operating Officer, which is currently Lauren Lambrugo.
McGarry stressed that the intent of the policy is to prevent confidential county information from being shared with unauthorized parties and not to stifle employee speech.
Castor pointed out that the policy is ultimately subject to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression.
View the full text of both new policies in the PDF section of this article.
Shapiro: "Stunned by the scope of the mess"
The meeting also featured the strongest condemnation to date of the previous administration by Shapiro, who said he was "stunned by the scope of the mess we inherited."
Referring to the previous administration as "the days of squabbling, punting, and irresponsibility," Shapiro said it seemed his predecessors believed "if they simply ignored the problems they would go away."
Shapiro pointed to the county's $418 million in debt, the service of which consumes 10 percent of the county's budget and 20 percent of its tax revenue.
At the same time, Shapiro said, the county is starting at $130 million in needed capital repairs and improvements and $100 million in repairs to county infrastructure, such as roads and bridges.
"I'm not sure some of the people who occupied these seats before us recognized the full extent of the challenges we face," Shapiro said.
Castor, who has long been outspoken in his criticism of his former colleagues, said he thinks Shapiro and Richards are "doing an excellent job" and that he was "proud" to serve alongside them.
"I was ashamed to serve on the previous board," Castor said.
Shapiro said that despite the "many challenges" facing the county, he remained optimistic and called the current county administration "by far the best leadership team this county has ever seen."
- The commissioners appointed two new members to the county's Board of Assessment Appeals. Joseph S. Foster, 59, is a history professor at Temple University and a resident of Lower Merion. Patrick J. Costello, 51, is a real estate agent who lives in Horsham.
- Castor asked Shapiro for the "honor" of making the motion to repeal the previous procurement policy, which was approved over his objection in 2010.
- Shapiro announced the use of a new Twitter hashtag, #MontcoPride, which will be used to promote the county.