Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. on Monday put further distance between himself and a bid made by his daughter’s software company for a $1 million government contract, insisting he had no involvement in the selection process and would recuse himself if the contract came to his desk.
Bryan, appearing at his weekly news briefing on St. Croix, extolled the virtues of his administration’s drawn-out, but fair procurement process, stating that Avera Tech’s proposal to the V.I. Health Department was still under negotiation and that no contract has been awarded yet.
Avera Tech, a software startup founded by Bryan’s former intern, Michael Pemberton, and his daughter, Aliyah Bryan, was reportedly solicited by the Health Department in less than 72 hours and is now best-positioned to get a $1 million, no-bid contract to do contact tracing in the territory.
The Daily News reported, however, that Avera Tech is neither licensed to do business in the territory nor has any prior experience with contact tracing, fueling speculation that the company was deliberately favored by the administration — a claim that Bryan denies.
“I was not involved in the selection process at all, so it’s not a conflict of interest,” Bryan said. “If I had signed [the contract], I could see the perception — under the law — of it being a conflict of interest, but I know my attorney would never recommend that I sign off on a contract that was issued by my daughter.”
Bryan, stating that he has a “vested interest” in his daughter’s success, said he would recuse himself and have Lt. Gov. Tregenza Roach sign off on the contract, if necessary.
“I would definitely recuse myself from the matter and have the lieutenant governor evaluate whether it needs to be signed or not,” Bryan said.
“I would not be participating. That would be a little bit much in terms of conflict of interest — she is my child.”
Bryan’s hand-over to Roach, however, may not be enough.
According to Gwen-Marie Moolenaar, president of the League of Women Voters of the Virgin Islands, Roach presents an “equal conflict of interest.”
“In the Virgin Islands, the governor chooses the lieutenant governor and they are essentially a very close team — it’s similar to the president and the vice-president,” Moolenaar said. “One wonders to what degree a lieutenant governor can make a decision that is completely independent of what the governor has done in this regard. It would have to be somebody outside the executive branch to make that decision.”
The administration has also faced pushback after reports surfaced that the Health Department didn’t actually solicit two other companies besides Avera Tech, as it previously claimed. Health Commissioner Justa Encarnacion, who appeared alongside Bryan on Monday, insisted that her department requested bids from three different companies and that Avera Tech was the only one that responded. “We do have the file indicating that [those companies] were contacted,” she said, referring to AMC Health and Aytu Bioscience.
Encarnacion also defended Avera Tech’s ability to contact trace despite its lack of experience. “They would not have been chosen for the process if we had not thought they were capable — that’s plain and simple,” she said.