Ethics Questioned on State Contract
With a state committee close to awarding a $50 million anti-tobacco advertising contract, questions have been raised about the selection process.
Those questions focus on the technical adviser to the committee's parent group, who has worked with some subcontractors expected to get some of the work.
Charles A. Wolfe, under contract to the Tobacco Use and Prevention Control Foundation, said yesterday that he has no financial stake in any of the 12 contract proposals.
Wolfe of Gainesville, Fla., was paid $2,600 by the Department of Health last summer and has a contract with the foundation for up to $30,000 more to assist in the selection process.
"It's frustrating to watch,'' he said yesterday. "These people in Ohio have been painstakingly cautious every step of the way.''
One competing advertiser said the winner could expect to make about $7.5 million, 15 percent of the contract value.
Three companies apparently are finalists for the deal, though the foundation wouldn't confirm that.
"Three firms made presentations, but we haven't eliminated anyone,'' said Susan Jagers, interim assistant director of the foundation.
One competing advertiser disagreed. He said Jagers notified him by e-mail four weeks ago that his company wouldn't be invited to make a presentation. "It's disingenuous to say, 'No one is out of the running.' . . . Wolfe has so many conflicts he thinks he is clean. Maybe he just doesn't get it.''
Jagers said she expects a decision on the four-year contract by next Friday, when the 20-member foundation board will meet.
"We did what we thought was a thorough conflict check for everybody and I don't think there are any conflicts at all,'' she said.
Wolfe acknowledged that he worked with several likely subcontractors while working on similar contracts in Florida and Indiana. But he said he was not paid by any of the companies competing for the overall contract in Ohio.
"This isn't the first time it's been brought up,'' he said. "I'm just frustrated by it because this is a rather thinly veiled attempt to discredit the foundation's process.''
Wolfe did, though, recommend two of the five committee members judging the competitors -- Linda Block of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and Jim Audette of Audette Communications in Minnesota.
A Columbus lawyer asked by The Dispatch to comment on the selection process said there is an appearance of impropriety.
"A lot of people on these boards are working very hard to do the right thing . . . It's a shame if this chap's attitude in any way deflects from their hard work,'' said J. Gregg Haught.
"The state of Ohio is not buying guardrail or grass seed in this case. The state of Ohio is formulating a program of protecting the health of its citizens over the next century. A critical part of that is obtaining public trust that . . . monies are being spent in the most effective, efficient way.''