2009-03-19 / Local & State

Auditor General To Probe Manners Contract

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - State Auditor General Jack Wagner said last Friday his agency will try to determine whether a contract to teach state liquor store employees how to be more courteous is an illegal conflict of interest.

The $173,000 contract went to a Pittsburgh firm called Solutions 21, whose president, Buddy Hobart, is married to a regional manager of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.

Board officials have said the bidding process complied with state law and that the firm submitted the lowest and best bid for the contract, part of an ongoing effort to modernize the liquor-and-wine operation. They also said the employee, Susanne Hobart, does not do any work for the firm, but will be among the 4,000 employees who receive the training.

Some legislators have raised questions about possible preferential treatment, and Gov. Ed Rendell recently said that any apparent conflict should be investigated.

Auditor General Wagner has been asked to look into the case "in the spirit of transparency and openness."

Wagner said his agency will conduct a thorough review to ensure that the contract was awarded according to state law.

"State agencies must go the extra mile, especially during difficult financial times, to assure taxpayers that there is no favoritism or conflict of interest occurring in the awarding of contracts to private vendors," he said.

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