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Businessmen Say County Shut Them Out Of Uniform Voucher Program

December 20, 2018

SCRANTON — Two Scranton 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 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 at the county administrative offices on Adams Avenue. Lackawanna County is to consolidate most of its offices at the former Globe store on Wyoming Avenue next month. Acting Chief of Staff Donald Frederickson said Joseph Harris’ part-time employment with the Lackawanna County Sheriff’s Department 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. Joe 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 back to the county. Beyond that, the sheriff decides what equipment his deputies should use, Frederickson said, and Starr is an exclusive dealer for some specific uniform brands including Blauer and others, 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, he added. “Listen, this is America. You can do whatever you want. I don’t have any special controls or special connections,” he said. In other business: • Commissioners approved 2-to-1 a contract with Barry Isett & Associates to study accessibility for walkers and cyclists in Lackawanna and Luzerne counties, specifically Scranton and Wilkes-Barre. The joint effort between both counties is receiving funding from the state Department of Conservation and Environmental Resources and the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund. Commissioner Laureen Cummings cast the lone no-vote after criticizing the plan as a veiled effort to get more cars off the road. She said a joint county transportation plan should prioritize improving roads and bridges, not bike lanes and footpaths. • Commissioners approved a plan to refinance a series of bonds in 2020, locking in a lower interest rate that will save the county about $2 million to $2.5 million over time. • Commissioners approved the paying of two separate $1,125 legal bills submitted by West Chester-based Donatoni & Chrichton, one of the firms representing the county related to the ongoing statewide grand jury probe into sex abuse at the county jail. The $2,250 in new bills brings the running total of legal bills incurred by the county stemming from the probe to approximately $626,705, county Controller Gary DiBileo said. STAFF WRITER JEFF HORVATH CONTRIBUTED TO THIS REPORT. Contact the writer: joconnell@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9131; @jon_oc on Twitter

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