November 25, 2012

Editorial: Support findings of ethics panel


---- — Essex County finds itself in the middle of a most embarrassing situation, thanks to what we’ll charitably call a gross oversight on the part of two of their employees who should know better.

The error occurred in the County Clerk’s Office — the repository of a myriad of records that constitute virtually the entire history of the county. There, records need to be copied and filed, and, these days, that requires sophisticated electronic gadgetry.

That gadgetry had to be purchased, and, before it was, it was the job of the county clerk, Joseph Provoncha, to steer the Board of Supervisors to the lowest and best bidder to provide the equipment. That’s where the procedure fell apart.

It turned out that Provoncha promoted the company that won the contract ahead of a lower bidder recommended by other county officials, and his deputy, Janet Cross, had been inappropriately communicating with the company: Info Quick Solutions of Liverpool, N.Y.

According to findings that came to light later, Cross had been in contact with IQS during the bidding process, filling that company in on competitors’ activities and thus giving IQS an unfair advantage.

The county’s Ethics Board was created last year and has proven its worth already. In the IQS case, the committee fined Provoncha $3,500 and Cross, $500. What is far more important is that the public now knows Essex County won’t tolerate even the appearance of wrongdoing.

Government operates under the microscope every day, as it should. It is using money it appropriates from each member of the public to conduct business. The money belongs to them. It must be used in their best interests in all cases.

The two officials in Essex County Clerk’s Office would certainly know it is inappropriate to share information with businesses about other bids the county has received. They have violated public trust by allowing that to happen.

Unfortunately, IQS equipment is already on the job in the County Clerk’s Office, and a very sticky problem has emerged: whether to rebid and, in effect, close down the office while a transition can take place, or leave the equipment in place and swallow the consequences of the gaffe.

We think county supervisors should take the more difficult path of canceling the contract and rebidding the job; that is the best way to show their commitment to the Ethics Committee and its work.

Essex County is doing the right thing by bringing all ethical questions to light. Degree does not matter. Right must prevail in all situations, even when it will create temporary turmoil with a contract.