Even if two companies doing business with Trumbull County government weren't the targets of an investigation, we believe Prosecutor Dennis Watkins would be on solid ground in recommending that county commissioners stop all dealings with Lid Chem and Tri County. Why? Because there are just too many questions emanating from the transactions.
For instance, neither company has a formal contract with Trumbull County, yet over the past nine years they have been paid nearly $700,000 by the county maintenance department. How is that possible when the prosecutor's office says a competitive bidding process is required whenever $15,000 or more is being spent?
The expenditure of tax dollars demands a strict system of checks and balances and well-established bidding and contractual procedures. But as a Vindicator investigation into the county's purchasing methods reveals, the words "free-wheeling" best describe how business is conducted.
Watkins has sent a letter to commissioners Michael O'Brien, Joseph Angelo and James Tsagaris asking them to end the county's relationship with Lid Chem and Tri County because the companies are being investigated. The prosecutors would only confirm to reporters that there is an ongoing probe.
In the dark
Who are Lid Chem and Tri County Supplies, which were paid a whopping $677,000? Don't ask Tony Delmont, the maintenance department director. He doesn't know much about them. As for Anthony Carson Jr., the county's director of purchasing, here's his take on the fact that the two companies use the same residential address in Girard on some financial forms:
"How companies do things is their own affair. My goal is to get the best price for the county."
It appears to us that Delmont and Carson are in need of an "Introduction to government spending" course. When it comes to taxpayer dollars, it does matter who authorizes their expenditure and where the money goes.
Companies that do business with government must fully disclose everything about themselves and must be able to prove that they have the financial wherewithal to repay the public dollars should anything go wrong. If Delmont and Carson don't know much about Lid Chem and Tri County Supplies, who would the county sue for recovery if services were not rendered?
Lid Chem, which has collected more than $70,000 in county checks so far this year, has an unlisted telephone number. A post office box in Girard appears on its invoices and letterhead.
Commissioner Tsagaris, for one, believes that Lid Chem and Tri County Supplies should have more than just a post office box number, but he isn't inclined to find out anything for himself. Here's what he said to the reporters:
"They should tell us more about themselves. Why don't you call them on our behalf and ask?"
This is the same commissioner who personally lobbied for one company, Acme Steak Co. of Youngstown, to get contracts to supply food to the jail and the juvenile justice center. Acme, which had never done business with the county until Tsagaris and Carson pitched it to the jail and juvenile center, received $159,000 worth of food contracts.
Tsagaris' dismissive attitude with regard to Lid Chem and Tri County Supplies is, therefore, not surprising.
We urge Prosecutor Watkins to not only investigate the two companies, but to identify everyone in county government who had anything to do with their getting $677,000 in business.