Smear Tactics In Purcellville Beginning To Backfire

Smear Tactics In Purcellville Beginning To Backfire

Purcellville’s interim town manager, Alex Vanegas, had a directive to investigate serious complaints against Purcellville Police Chief Cynthia McAlister. The town received multiple complaints from McAlister’s own staff, ranging from abuse of authority to tampering with I/A investigations, violations of general orders, intimidation, selective enforcement and wrongful termination.

McAlister was eventually placed on administrative leave pending an investigation.  Details of that investigation can be found here.

During this time, the town’s Human Resource (HR) Specialist, Sharon Rauch, was leaving her position due to medical reasons so Vanegas sought an outside HR professional to assist with the investigation.

On September 22, 2017 Vanegas submitted a form with three quotes he obtained from three human resources (HR) professionals.  The form is a “Quotation Sheet” used for town purchases under $25,000 to document “verbal quotations,” and accompanied by a purchase order so invoices submitted to the accounts payable department are paid against that purchase order.

In its simplest terms, to contract with an outside HR professional, the town manager only has to obtain three verbal quotes, document them on this form and make a selection on who to award the contract. Vanegas did just this.

However, in the continuing saga surrounding McAlister’s administrative leave and potential termination, the focus has shifted to what Vanegas indicates is a “smear campaign” to discredit him and the contractor he selected, causing a diversion and eventually undermining the detrimental findings in the investigation on McAlister.

Earlier today, a local news reporter published information which attempted to discredit Vanegas for reporting what she labeled a “phantom bid,” aka, a fake or fraudulent bid, on the quotation sheet.  That is, one of the HR professionals Vanegas listed, Margie Hamner (actual name is Hamner, not Hammer), is said to have told the reporter she did not submit a bid for the investigation into McAlister as police chief.

The article goes on to state that the town’s procurement procedures require at least three bids before a contract can be approved and mentions that another HR Professional listed on the sheet, John Anzivino, was a “supposed bidder” and no longer with his company.

Taken at face value, with the phrases, phantom bidder and supposed bidder, it would seem Vanegas falsified the form and violated procedure, faking two bids to simply sole source a contract to HR professional, Georgia Nuckolls.

However, the reporter is incorrect on all levels. Vanegas not only followed proper procedure to obtain quotes, not bids, and did, in fact, obtain a quote from Hamner and Anzivino as stated on the form.

Appendix B of the Town’s Procurement Documentation Requirements adopted in 2012 states that a contract in the cost range of $5,000 to $25,000 requires three verbal quotes on the Quotation sheet.  Thereafter, any payments must be marked as bid, contract or emergency.

Underlying, as Rauch was leaving her HR position in the middle of the investigation this placed the town into an emergency need situation–to find an HR Professional so the investigation could be completed.  This allows awarding contracts outside of any bidding process.

Vanegas had several choices.

“The town’s procurement policy requires three verbal quotes for any procurement between $5,000 up to $25,000. I followed all procurement requirements,” Vanegas said. “I could’ve just done it the easy way, it was an emergency, and sole-sourced it since our HR specialist was leaving due to health issues.  Instead, I obtain three quotes to make sure it was competitively priced.”

Two, the Tribune spoke directly with Hamner this evening by phone who stated she not only spoke to Vanegas at length about the contract particulars, yet informed him that her typical fee is $100 per hour.

“I did speak with Alex about the situation. HR is a very broad term but I just felt this type of investigation was outside of my area of expertise,” said Hamner.

Vanegas properly reported Hamner’s quote on the form and stated his reasoning not to select Hamner, “Limited Investigation experience.”

Hamner stated that she was shocked at the Loudoun Times-Mirror (LTM) article and felt it was “fake news” the way it was written because she was never asked to submit a “bid,” just gave [Vanegas] information about her ability and fees.

Third, the Tribune confirmed Anzivino decided to retire from his company shortly after Vanegas contacted him.  The Tribune also confirmed that Anzivino, an investigator, gave his hourly rate to Vanegas but would need to bring in an HR Specialist to assist at an additional cost.  Vanegas properly noted details of why he was not choosing Anzivino on the form.

“It is very upsetting that Karen [Graham at the LTM] would stoop to this level of fabrication and manipulation of facts in her reporting,” said Vanegas.

Vanegas stated that he selected Nuckolls not just because of the lower hourly fee but because of her education and background directly related to HR investigative work.  As well, the fact that she is married to a very well-respected detective in Herndon and felt her background overall would result in a fair fact-finding ability and detailed set of conclusions regardless of whether they were for or against McAlister.

“It is difficult for anyone to overlook her [Nuckoll’s] education and experience,” said Vanegas.

“I have a BA in English Literature from George Mason University, MBA from Loyola Marymount University with a concentration in HR Management.  I hold a Senior Professional of HR Certification with an International designation from the Society for Human Resources Management, have over 19 years of HR consultative experience, including very detailed HR investigative projects and assignments in a wide range of industries from fortune companies to municipalities,” stated Nuckolls.

Brian Reynolds