Harrisburg lighting contract raises concern of government watchdogs

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Government watchdogs are questioning a contract between Harrisburg and a company that came under FBI scrutiny in Allentown.

One week ago, Mayor Eric Papenfuse turned on the newly converted LED lights near Mulder Square in Allison Hill. The ribbon cutting ceremony of sorts took place days after Allentown ditched its contract with the same lighting company hired to perform Harrisburg’s work.

The reason raised eyebrows with government watchdogs.

ABC27 News received a packet of information from an anonymous “watchdog” that questions Harrisburg’s contract with Pittsburgh-based The Efficiency Network to overhaul the city’s 6,100 streetlights.

In May of this year, TEN vice president Patrick Regan presented its plan to City Council to convert Harrisburg’s cobra head-style and acorn-style streetlights to brighter LED lights. Regan said the energy savings would pay for the $3.7 million project itself and save Harrisburg $500,000 over the 10-12 year lifespan of the bulbs.

ABC27 records show Regan vowed his company would pay back any lost savings.

“TEN is required to make up the shortfall to the city,” he said.

According to The Morning Call newspaper, the FBI raided Allentown City Hall just a few weeks later in June amid allegations public officials were involved with ‘pay-to-play’ politics. The mayor allegedly demanded political contributions in exchange for contracts.

TEN’s LED conversion contract with Allentown was among 21 vendor contracts subpoenaed by the FBI this summer. To date, neither TEN nor Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski has been charged with any wrongdoing.

Ramzi Haddad, an Allentown entrepreneur, has been charged with conspiring to bribe an unnamed public official, according to The Morning Call. A source with the newspaper believed more indictments would be handed down in the future.

Reports show Regan donated upwards of $4,000 to Pawlowski’s political campaigns shortly after TEN was hired to conduct streetlight work in Allentown.

Papenfuse sat down with ABC27’s Dave Marcheskie to discuss the status of TEN’s involvement with Harrisburg.

“That case there, that mayor allegedly demanded contributions in exchange for contracts,” Papenfuse said. “That’s not what happens in Harrisburg.”

Watchdogs question the mayor’s involvement with TEN.

In November 2014, City Council approved a resolution to hire TEN to perform an audit of the streetlights, a $20,000 contract. According to the 2014 campaign finance report, Regan donated $1,000 to Papenfuse’s campaign a couple of weeks later.

ABC27’s Dave Marcheskie asked Papenfuse if this was a “thank you.”

“It is whatever, however you interpret it,” he said. “I think Patrick Regan appreciates the city and wanted to make a campaign contribution.”

Papenfuse halted any link to bribery. He said TEN’s contract approval was properly vetted by City Engineer Wayne Martin, who was part of a state committee involving the Department of General Services. Martin said the committee reviewed four “qualified” bids based on past performances, which in this case was primarily work performed in Bethlehem.

The Morning Call reported TEN CEO Troy Geanopolus donated $1,000 to Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan in May 2013 before the company was hired in October of that year.

Martin said TEN had the highest score based upon a list of criteria and came in at the lowest cost for the city.

Papenfuse said he may have signed off on the contract, but so did City Solicitor Neil Grover and City Council.

On the campaign contributions, Papenfuse said Regan donated during a holiday fundraiser and chose not to hold any fundraiser functions this year.

“I don’t think there’s any connection really between what’s happened there and what’s currently going on in Harrisburg,” Papenfuse said. “We’re lucky to have TEN perform the work.”

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