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Democrats Seek Open Bidding on Voting Machine Storage Lease

By Frank Parlato

County Legislator Jason Zona, joined by his two Democratic colleagues in the legislature, Owen Steed and County Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, submitted a resolution this week to bid out the lease to store county voting machines.

Republican lawmakers have indicated the Zona resolution may be moot because the current lease doesn’t expire for 11 months.  

The Democrats' proposal, however, could ultimately provide cost savings since the warehousing of voting machines can likely be provided by any number of landlords in this county and possibly at a lower price.

In 2008, the Republican majority in the legislature chose to enter into a lease to rent 28,000 square feet to store the voting booths in a warehouse at 1961 Transit Rd, in Burt, an unincorporated hamlet in the town of Newfane, for  $86,400 a year.

The warehouse is owned by Clear Opportunity Properties LLC, whose managing member is Lockport developer David Ulrich, a large donor to county Republicans.

The lease deal was done without seeking competitive bids.

By November, 2012, a resolution by the Republican majority to renew the lease, well in advance of its expiration, drew criticism from Zona and Virtuoso who argued that rather than have the majority decide who gets the lease without shopping for the best deal possible, the lease should go out to bid.

 "I thought it was no coincidence that Ulrich, the largest Republican donor in the county, should get the lease without bidding," Zona said.

Virtuoso argued it was a violation of the procurement policies of the county to enter into a lease without bidding—a point disputed by County Attorney Claude A. Joerg.

“It makes us look like fools if we do this,” Virtuoso said. “If Mr. Ulrich is the low bidder, that’s fine with me.”

Joerg, however, pointed to case law where courts have ruled that competitive bidding—or even shopping for the best deal—is not required of government for real estate deals.

The  Republican majority elected to keep voting machines at the Newfane facility, calling the Ulrich deal adequate  for county needs at the time.

The criticism from the two Democrats, however, may have convinced county lawmakers to drop the matter of long-term renewal of the lease. The  Administration Committee last fall tabled a resolution to extend Clear Opportunity’s lease to store voting machines at the same facility. The inaction on the new lease triggered a one-year extension of the existing lease, whereby Ulrich's Clear Opportunity Properties LLC continues to collect a monthly rent of $7,200 to store the voting machines.



Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr. www.niagarafallsreporter.com

May 21, 2013