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Sunday, March 23, 2008
Posted 10:10 PM by

Billion dollar Ed's no-bid contracts anger lawmakers

Ed Rendell has awarded more than $1 billion worth of state contracts without public bidding - including hiring his former law firm to work secretly on leasing the turnpike.Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell has awarded more than $1 billion worth of state contracts to private companies - including hiring his former law firm to handle the secret leasing of the state turnpike - without going through a public bidding process, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported Sunday.

Even worse, the money spent by Rendell between 2003 and 2008 cannot be compared to the spending of previous governors because state officials say they can't find the records, the newspaper reported.

What makes Rendell's practice different than his predecessors is the large dollar value of today's no-bid contracts, his unwillingness to disclose certain details and a May 2007 contract to his former practice, Ballard, Spahr, Anderson & Ingersoll, for $1.8 million.

The Ballard Spahr hiring has become a lightning rod in the past week with an increasing number of lawmakers questioning the contract not only because of Rendell's relationship to Ballard Spahr, but also because two former Rendell aides now are Ballard Spahr partners - brothers-in-law Adrian King and John Estey.

Estey was Rendell's chief of staff and a senior adviser until last month and King was deputy chief of staff until 2005. Estey, as chief of staff, recommended hiring Ballard Spahr, according to Rendell's General Counsel Barbara Adams. King now is working on the turnpike lease for the law firm in secret.

Rendell has defended the hiring, saying the firm is uniquely qualified because the company has experience in tax-related issues. Adams said she selected the firm because it is a Pennsylvania firm and because of its reputation. She said she was not told by the governor to hire Ballard Spahr.

House Minority Leader Sam Smith (R-Jefferson County) last week said the Ballard Spahr contract has the "appearance of a conflict."

So much so that Republicans are drafting a slew of bills requiring better public accountability.

House Minority Policy Chairman Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny County) said legislation is being written that would prevent Rendell, and future governors, from doling out contracts worth more than $100,000 without greater scrutiny.

State Senate Majority Whip Jane Orie (R-Allegheny County) wants to use legislation she co-sponsored last fall to establish stricter guidelines. The bill is modeled after a law Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter pushed through in 2005 as a councilman. The law makes businesses ineligible for no-bid city contracts if they contribute more than $10,000 a year to a city official's campaign.

Ballard Spahr's hiring was first disclosed by blogger Bill Keisling on two weeks ago. His reporting found the firm had started work on privatizing the turnpike even before the execution of a signed contract last year.

Since then, dozens of Ballard Spahr attorneys have billed the state for work on the turnpike, including include Kenneth M. Jarin, a Rendell campaign contributor ($40,000), a partner in Ballard Spahr and the husband of state Treasurer Robin L. Wiessmann. The couple live in Newtown, Bucks County.

Kenneth M. JarinJarin is also treasurer for the Democratic Governors' Association, which gave Rendell $462,000 for his gubernatorial campaign in 2002. In 2005, Rendell named him to the Board of Governors for the State System of Higher Education, which he now chairs.

Jarin billed the Commonwealth at a rate of $531.25 an hour for 46.5 hours of work, a total of $24,703.15, in April and May 2007. before Ballard Spahr's contract was finalized on May 23, 2007, Keisling found.

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