About $69,000 in Montgomery County funds was used without competitive bidding to buy furniture for the new county courthouse from a firm that has a salesman who is married to a Montgomery court official.
County Circuit Court Administrative Judge David L. Cahoon and Court Clerk Howard Smith say there was nothing wrong with the noncompetitive way in which purchases were made last year from Commercial Office Furniture of Lanham.
One of that company's salesmen is Jimmy Bryan, whose wife is Jane Bryan, assistant chief deputy in charge of finance for the courthouse. Cahoon said the fact that Jimmy Bryan works for the company had nothing to do with the purchase decision. The judge said he satisfied himself that Bryan was not involved in the transaction, and no one has suggested that Bryan was involved in it.
The purchase was made "in accordance with the process established for the court. We go out and negotiate the best deal we can get," said Cahoon. "No one suggested we do it any differently." He said the firm was selected because of its low prices.
County Finance Director Al Gault said yesterday: "If you are spending county money, you have to go through the county procurement laws."
A section of the Montgomery County Code dealing with procurement says that "any single purchase of goods or services, not professional services customarily negotiated, which involves an expenditure of $3,000 or more, shall be purchased by a formal bid procedure."
That procedure is designed to ensure selection of the lowest responsible offer in response to "reasonable public notice inviting bids."
According to Cahoon, the $69,000 used to buy furniture from Commercial Office Furniture came from a $300,000 fund the county had set aside to equip courtrooms, jury deliberation rooms, lounges and a law library in the new $18 million county courthouse in Rockville, which opened last summer.
Cahoon cited an August 1980 letter from Chief County Administrative Officer Robert Wilson that said: "The best procedure is for the court to purchase these items furnishings directly with charges to be made against the appropriation that currently exists for the Executive Office Building and the Courthouse."
The judge said the courthouse was under no state procurement guidelines at the time it bought the furniture since a new state law establishing such guidelines for state court clerk offices did not go into effect until last July. The purchases from Commercial were made in March 1981, according to invoices for the transactions.
County Attorney Paul McGuckian, queried by a reporter yesterday, said the question of whether the courts are bound by county government procedures is "a little bit murky. . . I can't say categorically that they should have followed our procedures."
He said he believed that Wilson's letter should not be interpreted as an authorization to "purchase directly without going through county procedures."
Wilson said he does not think court officials did "anything dishonorable. The intent was honorable. . . They were operating under procedures McGuckian described as murky. . . I don't have the authority to waive purchasing procedures."
Ann Whitcomb, operations manager for Commercial Office Furniture, said Montgomery County is a regular customer and that "most of what we have sold the county has been on a competitive basis."
Republican State Del. Luiz Simmons, believed to be a leading GOP candidate to oppose incumbent Democrat Charles W. Gilchrist for county executive, said, when queried by a reporter: "The whole business of procurement laws is to protect public money from sweetheart abuses. You should never depart from competitive bidding unless there are extraordinary circumstances.
Judge Cahoon said that the transaction concluded with Commercial "saved a bundle."