The nasty boil that burst at last Tuesday's County Board meeting -- with Corporation Counsel Jonathan F. Lehman berating Supervisor Diane M. Lange for more than ten minutes -- had its origins on Sept. 1, 2007. (Audiotape HERE; start at the 21-minute mark.)
That's the date the county signed a contract with Superior Health Linens for laundry service at the Ridgewood Care Center. According to Lange, Section 9.2 of this contract states: “Upon request, Superior shall provide to customer copies of its Healthcare Laundry Accreditation Council (HLAC) audits and certification as evidence for meeting state and/ or JACHO standards as they pertain to linen service.” (JACHO stands for Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations.)
Some time in December, however, Lange says, she began hearing that Superior actually is not accredited, and she began asking questions -- both of county officials and of the accreditation body.
On Jan. 11 she emailed Corporation Counsel Lehman, and Geoffrey Greiveldinger, chief of staff to County Executive William McReynolds, asking them to look into the question -- but got no response.
Then, just five days later on Jan. 16 something did happen: Lehman and McReynolds signed an amendment to the original contract, eliminating any requirement that Superior be accredited.
Lehman writes Joseph F. Bellante Jr., chairman of the County Board's Health and Human Development Committee, "There is not, nor has there ever been, a “requirement” that Superior have HLAC accreditation. Under the contract, Superior is required to comply with all relevant health and environmental regulations, but it need not be accredited by a voluntary, non-governmental entity. Supervisor Lange’s suggestion that there ever was such a requirement in the contract, shows that she also fails to understand contract law."
But his letter also says: "Supervisor Lange complains that, as originally signed, the 2007 contract contained an implicit statement that Superior is accredited by the Healthcare Laundry Accreditation Council (HLAC), a non-profit organization that certifies laundry services that voluntarily request it. That much is correct. Although Superior may be seeking such accreditation, it is not currently accredited. The contract has since been amended to eliminate the implication that it has this voluntary accreditation." (Emphasis added by RacinePost.)
Lange responds, "I heard they misrepresented themselves in the contract." On Jan. 23, in fact, Lange received confirmation that Superior Health Linens is not HLAC-accredited and had not been inspected.
Regardless, given Lehman's assertion that no accreditation is required --"Let me state clearly: HLAC accreditation was not mentioned in the RFP, it was not mentioned in Superior’s bid, it was not a condition of eligibility to bid," he writes -- the question has to be asked: Where did Sec. 9.2 of the contract -- the one mentioning audits and certification from the accreditation council -- come from in the first place?
Lehman is upset by statements he says Lange made saying that he wrote the amendment changing the contract, eliminating the apparently unnecessary-from-the-start accreditation certification. He makes clear that he didn't write it: "It was drafted by Superior," he says. Nor was the amendment triggered by any of Lange's communiques, Lehman says. The amendment was sent to County officials by Superior in December. (Which raises another whole set of questions, beginning with "Why did Superior draft the amendment to the contract they and the county had already signed?")
Lange merely wonders: "I don't know where Sec. 9.2 got in, and Lehman says it's immaterial because it's not part of the specifications in the RFP. Maybe it wasn't part of the RFP, but Superior put it in that they were accredited, but then later on acted like, 'we could get caught in this little misrepresentation, so let's amend it.' "
"Part of what I was challenging is: Is this the way the county wants to do business? 'Oh, we want to delete this thing and just amend it.' If I was another company that put a bid in and didn't get the contract, I'd be upset." In fact, Hospital Laundry Services, another company that bid on the Ridgewood contract in August, is HLAC-certified.
There is, as you might have guessed, a bigger issue than just this contract amendment. Underlying Lange's concerns are charges and investigations dealing with how Superior, which has contracted with the county since 2004, treats their employees. Lange, District 3, along with Supervisors Dan Sharkozy, District 8, and Gaynell Dyess, District 2, wrote a letter to Superior in 2006, asking questions about worker treatment after some unfavorable stories emerged elsewhere in the state. "They answered back and said they were treating everyone fairly."
But those questions have persisted, as we reported HERE. Lange said she met with the chairman of the Dane County Board last fall, "and he was relaying some of the process there. The county held hearings on Superior's treatment of its workers, and several workers testified. They did not renew the contract there."
"Just because Racine County has chosen to privatize our laundry services, it doesn't mean we can wash our hands about a company and how they treat their employees," Lange said.
Lange is philosophical about Lehman's response to her questions. "I think the past practices of a company are relevant. But here, part of me thinks there's tension between the Legislative and Executive branches. The Executive Branch doesn't want to be challenged."
Lehman's response to that point, contained in his letter, seems to bear her out. "Supervisor Lange complains that neither the Chief of Staff nor I responded to her emailed concerns. The statement is correct. What is not correct is the implication that her emails merited a response of any kind, much less action in furtherance of her unfounded complaints." Lehman points out that Lange is not a member of either of the two committees with oversight of the matter; nor does she have any affected constituents, he says. Therefore, "while her communication to the Chief of Staff and me might have been of interest, it was not one to which the Executive Branch was bound to reply." Until last Tuesday night, when no Supervisors could get a word in edgewise...
For more information, read the two letters written to Supervisor Bellante Jr., chairman of the County Board's Health and Human Development Committee (he ascended to the chairmanship after David Hazen resigned from the Board last fall). Lange's letter to Bellante was written on Feb.23; Lehman's response was written on Feb. 26. Lange's is HERE; and Lehman's is HERE.