A state purchasing analyst was investigated — and faced potential discipline — for factually commenting on the irony of his agency awarding a no-bid contract as it sought to end the improper practice.

Ohio Department of Administrative Services officials ultimately decided not to punish Andrew Miller, a 14-year employee, for allegedly making "inappropriate comments to an outside vendor."

The office of Inspector General Randall J. Meyer uncovered the incident while investigating the agency's improper award of a $35,139 contract in June 2017 to Gartner Inc. to help improve the state's flawed procurement practices.

The contract improperly was routed to Gartner without obtaining bids or price quotes, improperly spanned two state fiscal years and the agency improperly paid for the work before it was completed, the inspector general's investigation found.

Miller, who handled the Gartner contract, spoke up when Administrative Services information-technology purchasing analysts and supervisors met with then-Gartner executive Christian Fuellgraf on June 30, 2017.

He pointed out that no-bid Gartner deal was ironic in that it was rushed to sidestep a requirement that no-bid contracts be approved by the State Controlling Board. Miller also said something along the lines of "Why are we here?" according to the investigation by agency's collective-bargaining office.

Miller also noted that an Administrative Services spokesman had effectively said in a prior Dispatch story, which uncovered more than $15 million in no-bid contracts improperly routed to two favored information-technology consultants, that analysts such as himself did not fully understand their jobs. Miller was among state purchasing analysts who had objected to their superiors' awards of no-bid contracts.  

Miller then was told by a supervisor to leave the meeting and instructed not to return, the investigation said. Two supervisors, including Miller's, complained that his statements "were unprofessional and made others in the room uncomfortable."

The two investigators handling the case concluded no discipline was necessary because Miller had discussed supervisors' concerns with them and had not used an inappropriate tone or raised his voice.

Asked by investigators why he made comments about no-bid contracts, Miller replied, "I mean, we are supposed to protect taxpayers' money and look out for the state and make sure we are doing things correctly and we are in situation where are being told to let things go that management wants.

"This was in of itself exactly one of those things ... this person was hired to talk about exactly this thing," Miller said. He could not be reached for comment on Friday.

Asked about the investigation of Miller, Administrative Services spokesman Tom Hoyt said the agency "received a referral regarding an employee’s behavior during an office meeting. This prompted an investigation, which is normal protocol in these situations, and it was determined no further action was necessary and the matter was closed.”

Catherine Turcer, executive director of the good-government group Common Cause Ohio, questioned the investigation of Miller.

"Certainly, no one should be criticized, and certainly not investigated, for speaking the truth," she said.

"It is important for our government employees to feel they can speak freely and not be chastised for speaking about the need to meet the goal of ending no-bid contracts. You shouldn't begin that process by awarding a no-bid contract," Turcer said.

rludlow@dispatch.com

@RandyLudlow