Auditor: Official key to tracing contract refused interview

Coronavirus

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A state official involved in a coronavirus contact-tracing contract that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer canceled refused to be interviewed by auditors who investigated, the auditor general’s office said in a letter released Friday.

Andrea Taverna, the state Department of Health and Human Services’ senior adviser on opioid strategy, instead referred auditors’ questions to her attorney, according to the July 31 letter sent by Auditor General Doug Ringler to Republican Rep. Ann Bollin of Brighton Township.

Bollin, who sought the inquiry into the handling of the contract, made the document public in a news release Friday.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office also is investigating how the state awarded the contract to a Democratic political firm to help contact and warn people who were potentially exposed to COVID-19, after GOP legislators raised questions. Whitmer in April ordered the cancellation of her administration’s no-bid contract to Great Lakes Community Engagement, which is owned by a Democratic consultant, Donald Kolehouse, who planned to use software developed by a firm with ties to Democratic campaigns.

Auditors told Bollin they interviewed eight state officials, mostly in the health department, including director Robert Gordon. The review found that Ed Duggan, senior adviser in the state Department of Labor and Economic Growth, suggested to Taverna — a Michigan Public Health Institute contract employee who was primarily in charge of tracing — that Kolehouse could start building a technology platform and assisting with staffing needs.

Only Kolehouse’s firm, K2K Consulting, was considered for the $203,000 contract. People who spoke to the auditors said they did not think the health department had the capacity to develop an efficient contact-tracing system internally, so it became apparent that an outside contractor would be needed.

Asked why Taverna did not agree to answer the auditors’ questions, a DHHS spokeswoman referred The Associated Press to Taverna’s attorney. He could not immediately be reached Friday.

After the governor’s office scrapped the contract amid scrutiny, the state contracted with Rock Connections and Deloitte to do the work for $1 million.

“There are clearly some red flags here,” Bollin said in a statement. “Thankfully, this contract was terminated after the partisan political ties became public, and no public tax dollars were awarded to the governor’s political consultant. The bigger issue it that we clearly have flaws in the system that allowed this to happen.”

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