Tag Archives: New Jersey

Probe of Christie Sandy Spending Should Extend Beyond TV Ads – Jersey Rebuilding Effort Studded with Sketchy and Costly Federal Rule Deviations

Source: Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), Press Release, January 15, 2014

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s role in doling out reconstruction monies after Super Storm Sandy needs a thorough independent audit, according to a request filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) with the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) Office of Inspector General. The organization cites state departures from federal requirements in the $10.5 billion program that have wasted funds or diverted relief from those entitled to it.

Currently, there are at least two federal investigations into New Jersey’s post-storm efforts:
– The no-bid award of an improper piggy-back debris removal master contract to Florida-based AshBritt Inc., at the urging of its lobbyist and Christie supporter former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, is under review by the U.S. Homeland Security Office of Inspector General; and
– The $4.7 million media contract which produced the “Stronger Than the Storm” TV ad campaign featuring Gov. Christie and his family is being probed by the HUD Inspector General, at the request of U.S. Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ).

Citing the fact that a key state auditing-oversight contract of post-Sandy funds was awarded to the law firm headed by David Samson, Christie’s campaign counsel, head of his gubernatorial transition and his appointee to the Board of Commissioners of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, PEER is asking for federal review of how these funds are being spent. Adding to the incestuous nature of these arrangements, the principal in Samson’s firm overseeing audit management of the state Department of Community Affairs is Lori Grifa, Christie’s director of that same agency from 2010 to 2012. …

Read the PEER letter to HUD IG
Look at the Samson firm audit contract, featuring Ms. Grifa
View Rep. Pallone call for investigation of post-Sandy media marketing contract
See state jettisoning resilience and transparency requirements
Examine how state is making Jersey more vulnerable to the next storm
View latest example of Christie scapegoating

Federal auditors probe use of disaster funds for N.J. ad campaign that featured Christie
Source: Carol D. Leonnig, Washington Post, January 13, 2014

As New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie tries to control the damage from a major bridge scandal and a federal investigation involving his top aides, federal auditors are launching a separate inquiry into his administration’s use of federal disaster recovery funds for an ad campaign. The auditors are probing why the Christie administration awarded a lucrative $23 million contract to a well-connected firm to produce tourism ads starring the governor and his family. … In August, Rep. Frank Pallone, (D-N.J.) called the use of the funds for the ad campaign “extremely troubling” and asked the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s inspector general to look into why Christie had approved using Sandy recovery funds to highlight himself during an election year. The request came on the heels of an article about the marketing contract’s high cost in a local paper, the Asbury Park Press. Last week, as Christie was fielding a flood of criticism and questions about his knowledge of the snarled bridge traffic, the inspector general’s office notified Pallone that it had found enough credible evidence to begin a full audit of the tourism ads….The N.J. Economic Development Authority, a Cabinet-level agency in the Christie administration that oversees state and federal funds meant to encourage commerce and economic revitalization, awarded the contract. … The cost comparison is in dispute between critics and defenders of the deal. Pallone and other Democrats said the MWW contract cost $2 million more than the next-highest bidder, a firm that had done prominent tourism marketing ads in New York and New Orleans featuring comedian Billy Crystal and musician Harry Connick Jr. The Christie administration has said the overall contract of MWW cost more because it included significantly more work, including labor-intensive, localized events….

Feds probe Christie’s possible misuse of Sandy funds
Source: Al Jazeera and The Associated Press, January 13, 2014

Governor Chris Christie may have spent $2 million more than necessary on an NJ tourism ad during election year … “Had Governor Christie chosen the less expensive firm, $2.2 million in federal disaster aid could have potentially been directed elsewhere, for example, to provide 44 Sandy-impacted homeowners $50,000 grants to raise their homes,” Pallone said in a press release on Monday….

HUD Inspector General Will Audit NJ Tourism Marketing Campaign in Response to Pallone Letter
Source: Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr., Press Releases, January 13, 2014

Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. announced today that the Office of the Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will audit the State of New Jersey’s use of $25 million of Sandy aid funds for a marketing campaign to promote tourism at the Jersey Shore. At issue is the bidding process for the campaign and released documents which raise questions as to why the state chose to award the contract to a firm that charged the state over $2 million more than a comparable bid for similar work….

HUD Probes New Jersey’s ‘Stronger Than The Storm’ Ad Campaign
Timing Of Latest Bombshell Couldn’t Be Worse For Beleaguered Gov. Christie

Source: CBSNewYork/AP, January 13, 2014

…The administration paid $4.7 million to a politically connected public relations company over another firm that had bid $2 million less. The winning bidder proposed using Christie in the ads, while the other bidder did not….

New Jersey town takes the taxing out of tax collection

Source: John Breeden II, GCN, December 20, 2013

…If enough residents don’t pay their taxes or their municipal bills, it can strangle a small government. Municipalities do have some tried and true ways to recoup those fees, including the auction of tax liens, where investors can purchase county-held tax certificates representing unpaid taxes and fees. But setting up an auction of thousands of liens is time consuming and expensive for small governments. Plus, live auctions further delay the payment of delinquent taxes and fees. Moving the process online can greatly reduce administrative costs, increases the pool of bidders, and can help local governments more quickly recoup taxes and fees. …

… To combat the overhead involved in the in-person auctions, Red Bank contracted with Realauction.com to move the entire process online. Realauction.com is a seven-year-old company that is currently working in Florida, New Jersey, Maryland, Colorado and Arizona and the cities of Detroit and Chicago. In New Jersey, Red Bank was the first municipality to come onboard, but now many others are joining up. …

…Realauction.com has developed software to meet the needs of specific counties. One program automates the creation of a notice of sale for foreclosed properties. Another calculates the amount due on each tax lien, tracks payments electronically and notifies the municipality when funds have settled. The system processes receipts, notifications and title orders on hundreds of tax liens simultaneously, the company said, accomplishing these tasks in a matter of hours rather than days. Crum said that security is not a big problem because the documents are public records. However, bidders’ information like their Social Security numbers pass through a one-way gateway to the website during sign up and are kept in an encrypted vault that can’t be accessed remotely. …

Opinion: Charter schools should educate, not discriminate

Source: Amy B. Dean, Al Jazeera America, January 13, 2014

Immigrant children deserve excellent schooling too. …

…Education should not be a market-based commodity, but charter operators are organized to act as though it were. The “product” that charters are supposed to deliver is better test scores, and they impose corporate-style accountability measures like standardized exams, paying teachers less and firing them at will and eliminating many noninstructional staff positions to achieve their goals.

It should come as no surprise that private charter operators and their employees are driven by economic imperatives to avoid accepting children whose scores are tough to raise, like kids who are English language learners. If a charter has a lower percentage of ELL students to teach than a traditional public school, its average reported test scores may be easier to raise….

…In early 2013, Reuters released an in-depth report showing that charter schools across the United States have adopted complex screening practices that include requiring detailed applications available only in English, tight scheduling that allows for application only during an annual two- or three-hour window and Social Security card or birth-certificate checks (which are illegal requirements). In one example, only 5 percent of students in San Francisco’s Gateway High charter school were ELLs while a neighboring public school — less than a mile away — had an ELL population of 14 percent. (Unlike charters, public schools must by law take responsibility for teaching every student who lives in their districts.)

Admissions at charter schools are poorly regulated: A 2010 review of Philadelphia School District charter schools found that oversight was virtually nonexistent. And while his work doesn’t specifically focus on immigrant kids, Rutgers professor Bruce Baker has written a paper that shows that charter schools in Newark, N.J., systemically select students who are more likely to succeed. This is known as “cream skimming”. Some charter operators are especially guilty — he names North Star Academy in particular — but overall, Baker argues that skimming is often present when a randomized lottery admission system includes only those kids whose parents are able to enter them in the lottery in the first place. The result, in the case of Newark’s schools, is that the charters wind up serving 15 percent of the overall student population but only 1 percent of the ELLs….
Special Report: Class Struggle – How charter schools get students they want
Source: Stephanie Simon, Reuters, February 15, 2013

Viewpoints: Keep it flowing: the challenges of maintaining a municipal water system

Source: Christopher Franklin, American City and County, Viewpoints blog, January 8, 2013
Christopher Franklin is executive vice president of Aqua America

…For municipalities facing these challenges, public-private partnerships (PPPs) or operations and maintenance (O&M) contracts can be an ideal solution. In the PPP model, a public entity such as a federal, state or local government agency, contracts with a private water company to manage and invest in water and wastewater systems. Private companies have the capital resources required to update infrastructure, and are in the financial position to invest resources into improvements and renovations to update aging systems, which ultimately benefits customers by providing clean, safe water at an affordable cost. With the more traditional O&M relationship the private entity will take on the day-to-day responsibilities of the utility in exchange for a service fee.

‘A great tragedy’: Atco boy, 6, hit, killed by school bus / Probe under way in boy’s death

Source: Phil Dunn, Courier-Post, January 6, 2014

…Authorities said Edmond was struck shortly before 8:30 a.m. on Aqua Lane in the township’s Atco section. He was pronounced dead at 9:15 a.m. at Virtua Hospital in Berlin. The unidentified driver has not been charged, but an investigation is underway, according to the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office. … He said the driver was a substitute for Hillman’s Bus Service with 25 years of experience. …

Christie Digging Transit Fiasco Hole Deeper – Transit Privatizes Flood Forecasts to Bypass State’s Climate Change Denial

Source: Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), Press Release, December 30, 2013

The official post-mortem on the massive damage to New Jersey Transit locomotives and passenger cars stored in low-lying yards during Hurricane Sandy points to continued vulnerability from extreme weather events. The state’s inability to adopt reliable plans is hampered by Governor Chris Christie’s political need to disclaim effects of climate change, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

In contrast to New York where planning shielded its much greater MTA rail assets from Sandy-induced damage, New Jersey was caught flat-footed and suffered more than $120 million in losses from transit assets inundated in flood-prone storage areas. A review by the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service, released on Christmas Eve, found that New Jersey (NJ) Transit lacked:

• “Flood protection models to predict the impact of future monster storms on key facilities”;
• “Vulnerability assessments…and appropriate measures taken to mitigate potential threats”; and
• “Timely, accurate communications with the public during an emergency…”

Notably, the report did not find a shred of support for Gov. Christie’s explanation that problems stemmed from the action of a “lower level manager that made the decision on the cars that you’re talking about, where they were placed. It was not vetted up the chain as it was supposed to be vetted up the chain.” In fact, the decision was approved at the highest levels of NJ Transit which did not have a coherent plan. …
See also:
Look at the engineering review
View NJ Transit response
See Christie implausible scapegoating transit damage
Examine how Christie climate denial stance impedes post-Sandy recovery

Midland Park awards recycling contract

Source: Lynn Bruggemann, northjersey.com, December 19, 2013

Starting in January the borough’s recyclables will be collected by the same company now doing its garbage pickups as a result of a contract awarded at the Dec. 12 council meeting. The 3-year, $242,480 contract with Sterling Carting based in Sloatsburg, N.Y., was the lower of two bids received. … Hanna said she had received some complaints from residents about missed collections under current recycling contractor Galaxy Carting of Jersey City, which had a one-year $88,800 contract. … She said residents also have also complained about recycling receptacles being scattered on their properties and blocking homeowners’ driveways.

Possible privatization of psych ward in Camden triggers worries

Source: Sarah Whites-Koditschek, NewsWorks, December 13, 2013

Mental health advocates in New Jersey are worried about the possible privatization of the Camden County Health Service Center’s psychiatric ward. The center was sold to Ocean Healthcare for more than $37 million in May, but county officials had planned to lease back the psych ward. There is disagreement about the future of the ward, with a county spokesman saying the original plan will proceed….But Mary Lynne Reynolds of the Mental Health Association in Southwestern New Jersey said she believes Ocean Healthcare intends to take over the ward. She said she’s worried the company will reject the uninsured patients in the roughly 150-bed ward. … According to Reynolds, the contract included a clause that allowed the hospital to change the plan. an Keashen, a spokesman for Camden County Spokesman, said the agreement hasn’t changed and the county will continue to operate the psych ward….

Out of Control: The Coast-to-Coast Failures of Outsourcing Public Services to For-Profit Corporations

Source: In The Public Interest, December 2013

From the abstract:
Eager for quick cash, state and local governments across America have for decades handed over control of critical public services and assets to corporations that promise to handle them better, faster and cheaper. Unfortunately for taxpayers, not only has outsourcing these services failed to keep this promise, but too often it undermines transparency, accountability, shared prosperity and competition – the underpinnings of democracy itself. As state legislatures soon reconvene, policy makers likely will consider more outsourcing proposals. Out of Control: The Coast-to-Coast Failures of Outsourcing Public Services to For-Profit Corporations serves as a cautionary tale for lawmakers and taxpayers alike.

Out of Control: The Coast-to-Coast Failures of Outsourcing Public Services to For-Profit Corporations

NJ school bus driver indicted in DUI case

Source: Associated Press, November 4, 2012

A South Jersey school bus driver accused of driving drunk with 25 students aboard last year has been indicted on a child endangerment charge. A Burlington County jury handed up the charge against 47-year-old Carole Crockett on Friday. Prosecutors say the Shamong resident was working for a private transportation company when she was arrested in November 2011. …

Westampton school bus driver admits being impaired
Source: Danielle Camilli, phillyburbs.com, October 29, 2013

A Westampton school bus driver admitted in Superior Court on Monday that she was driving impaired when transporting township middle school students home two years ago. … Authorities have said Crockett was behind the wheel with a blood alcohol level of 0.25, or nearly five times the legal limit for operating a commercial vehicle. … Several students reported to their parents that Crockett, who was an employee of the bus company, not the school district, was swerving all over the road and falling asleep at the wheel during the afternoon ride home, according to police. … Students also reported that Crockett almost struck a parked car as well as a jogger, and that she had vomited in her handbag, authorities said.