Businessmen Say Lackawanna County Shut Them Out Of Uniform Voucher Program

December 21, 2018
Businessmen Say Lackawanna County Shut Them Out Of Uniform Voucher Program

SCRANTON — Two city businessmen say county officials shut them out of a potentially lucrative uniform voucher program.

Joseph and Tom Harris told Lackawanna County commissioners they’ve spent nearly a decade fighting for their business, Roll Call, to be added to the Sheriff’s Department’s uniform voucher program, to no avail.

They say they’ve been blocked, and deputies are funneled to a sole supplier, Starr Uniform, in downtown Scranton for uniforms, boots and gear.

“The goal post has been moved on me so many times, I cannot keep up at this point,” Joe Harris said during the commissioners’ final meeting Wednesday at the county administrative offices on Adams Avenue.

Lackawanna County is consolidating most of its offices at the former Globe store on Wyoming Avenue. Meetings will take place on the fifth floor of the building.

Starr Uniform Center was the only “responsible respondent” to a 2016 proposal request and won the Sheriff’s Department’s only uniform contract, according to the resolution approving the uniform vendor award. It expires Jan. 31.

The resolution lists 35 specific and generic items that Starr carries, including 5.11 brand tactical jackets, 5.11 Hard Times gloves and Blauer raincoats. The list also includes gear such as Smith & Wesson handcuffs, Strion LED flashlights and Safariland holsters.

Starr also agrees to offer discounts, as low as 15 percent and as high as 40 percent, on a number of brands, according to the resolution.

County Purchasing Director Joe Wechsler said Roll Call does not have to submit a bid but must deliver a spec sheet for the items it carries.

The sheriff has to OK the move before adding Roll Call to the program.

Per their collective bargaining contract, sheriff’s deputies start each year with a $1,200 clothing allowance.

The 2016 resolution, which is signed by Commissioners Patrick O’Malley, Laureen Cummings and Jerry Notarianni, says deputies’ vouchers are valid “solely at the Contractor’s establishment,” meaning Starr Uniform.

Deputies shop for what they need when they need it. The vendor tracks each deputy’s purchases and bills the county monthly.

Acting Chief of Staff Donald Frederickson said Joseph Harris’ part-time employment with the Sheriff’s Department’s Mounted Unit precludes him from doing business with the county; however, the sheriff has freedom to run his office as he sees fit.

“That’s something him (Sheriff Mark McAndrew) and his solicitor are going to have to work through,” Frederickson said after the meeting.

Joseph Harris said he works only about 30 hours a year with the horseback division, and he’d resign if it clears his family’s company to accept Sheriff’s Department uniform vouchers.

Quitting still might not be enough, at least not right away.

County employees must wait one year after resigning to sell goods and services to the county.

Beyond that, the sheriff decides what equipment his deputies should use, Frederickson said. Starr is an exclusive dealer for specific uniform brands that the county has preferred to use.

Tom Harris is Roll Call’s sole owner. Joseph Harris, his son, is a former firearms trainer with the Scranton Police Department and has played a key part in building the business.

He helped steer a major relocation from Luzerne County to just off Keyser Avenue and construct a state-of-the-art gun range and training center.

McAndrew said he has no problem with deputies using one or the other. In fact, the Sheriff’s Department uses Roll Call’s range to qualify deputies.

“As far as I’m concerned, they’re both good vendors. I know the two of them,” he said in an interview after the meeting. “They (the sheriff’s deputies) get allocated $1,200. I’m not going to tell them where they have to go. They go where they want.”

Starr owner Sam Starr did not attend the meeting but later said, as he understands it, his exclusive brand licenses for high-quality gear made him the department’s only option.

“I’ve been doing this for 45 years; I don’t think there is a comparable brand,” he said, adding that he isn’t trying to restrict deputies from shopping elsewhere or getting special treatment.

“Listen, this is America. You can do whatever you want. I don’t have any special controls or special connections,” he said.

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