Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Is Christie being transparent with Sandy money?

After criticism over the way he awarded federally-funded reconstruction contracts after Sandy, Gov. Christie last February issued an executive order creating a "Sandy transparency" web site.

Is Christie being transparent with Sandy money?


UPDATED at 5:20 pm

After criticism over the way he awarded federally-funded reconstruction contracts after Sandy, Gov. Christie last February issued an executive order creating a "Sandy transparency" web site.

The site, manned by the state comptroller's office, was intended to list "all approved state contracts for the allocation and expenditure of federal reconstruction resources."

But of late, the Christie administration has allegedly been violating at least the spirit of its executive order and federal requirements that mandate such information be posted online. The Fair Share Housing Center, an advocacy group monitoring Sandy aid because of its effect on low-income residents displaced by the storm, found that major contracts have not been posted online.

For example, according to FSHC, a $67.7 million contract signed May 8 with New Orleans-based firm Hammerman & Gainer for a Sandy Housing Incentive Program (apparently the single largest state contract to date for disaster recovery) is not yet on the Sandy transparency web site. In addition, while pieces of other contracts are online, FSHC has had to file open records requests to secure more information -- including costs -- for three additional contracts worth more than $20 million apiece.

Michael Drewniak, a governor's spokesman, said "the accusations are meritless and clearly agenda-driven." (FSHC has long been a thorn in the side of the administration over affordable housing issues.)

"Gov. Christie is committed to providing the highest levels of transparency with Sandy contracts, and a review of the comptroller’s website shows that the administration is scrupulously following the protocols laid out in the executive order," he said. "Dozens of contract documents are already posted and new ones are being added on a continuing basis."

The documents are posted following a review by the independent comptroller's office, which Drewniak described as "an unprecedented review process in New Jersey public contracting." 

Christie's executive order came after his administration faced legislative hearings over his political connections to a company, AshBritt Inc., that received a no-bid contract after the storm. The governor was also questioned about a contract with CDM Smith, which had been fired by the state of Texas for doing a poor job managing recovery after a storm in Galveston. 

In April, Christie vetoed a Democratic bill that would have required the comptroller post contracts 10 days after receipt.

“Gov. Christie vetoed my bill because he claimed he could do it just as well on his own, but apparently that’s not case," Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D., Essex) said in a statement today. "It appears as though Gov. Christie has fallen short on his promise of full transparency when it comes to Sandy spending, making his veto even more unfortunate for taxpayers...He needs to support putting these safeguards into law and ensuring full transparency.”

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