After firing Sandy storm contractor, Gov Christie adds ‘Integrity monitors’

Chris Christie

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie leaves the Capitol in Washington in this Nov. 17, 2014 file photo (J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo)

In the wake of the secret firing of a controversial contractor hired to administer $780 million in Sandy aid, the Christie administration has issued a new request for proposals to a list of preapproved firms to perform additional work as integrity monitors in Sandy programs, Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) reported yesterday.

“Integrity monitors have an established track record of preventing waste, fraud and abuse,” Sweeney said. “Their efforts in protecting taxpayer dollars are why I pushed so hard to ensure this legislation became law. I am glad the administration is taking the necessary steps to ensure these monitors get to New Jersey as quickly as possible.”

“As we saw recently with the midnight firing of Hammerman and Gainer, clearly there are issues with how Sandy funding was being maintained,” he said, suggesting that better use of the integrity-monitoring program might have caught the problems sooner. “Hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars are flowing through our state right now in relief funding. Integrity monitors will ensure that money is not squandered, so let’s get them here as soon as possible.”

Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-Essex) were the prime sponsors of the legislation that called for special integrity monitors to audit major Sandy projects and report suspected waste, fraud, and abuse to the New Jersey Attorney General or the independent Office of the State Comptroller. The program was modeled after a similar initiative that New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani had used to ensure the integrity of the reconstruction of the World Trade Center site after 9/11.

Christie, who was initially noncommittal, signed the bill last March 27, requiring the Treasury Department to choose a pool of firms as integrity monitors through a competitive bidding process and assign them to all Sandy projects whose prices exceeded $5 million. The integrity monitors were to paid through federal Sandy funds, and the Treasury Department had the option of assigning them to lower-cost projects if they felt additional oversight was necessary.

Sweeney’s office learned of the issuance of the new request for proposals for Sandy integrity monitors on Sunday and expressed confidence that its information is correct, although Christie administration officials said last night they could not confirm any expansion of the integrity-monitoring program or any link to the problems with the Hammerman and Gainer firm.

The Christie administration confirmed last Thursday that it had fired Hammerman and Gainer (HGI) in December — a fact that state Community Affairs Commissioner Richard Constable neglected to mention in his testimony at a legislative committee hearing focused on the problems with Sandy relief programs earlier this month.

Last May, HGI won a $68 million contract to administer a $780 million program designed to get Sandy victims back in their homes, a contract that was awarded soon after HGI’s law firm, Cape and Scatchard, made a $25,000 contribution to the Republican Governors Association, which contributed $1.7 million to Christie’s reelection campaign. The company’s work was the subject of constant complaints by New Jersey homeowners displaced by Sandy.

“Whenever you try to find out anything out about Sandy programs, you end up groping in the dark,” complained Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club. “People have been complaining about HGI for a year now, but nobody knew until a month later that they were gone. Why did it take so long for this administration to find out how bad they were when everybody they dealt with knew they weren’t doing the job? The reason you can’t find out about any of this is because the Christie administration doesn’t want people to know what’s going on.”

Marc Ferzan, executive director of the governor’s office of Recovery and Rebuilding, had not made a public appearance since last April, refusing reporter interviews and skipping four legislative hearings, before finally emerging last week. Ferzan broke his months of silence to do a conference call defending the share of Sandy aid awarded to Hoboken after Mayor Dawn Zimmer charged that Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno passed along a threat from Christie to withhold Sandy aid from her city if she did not approve a development project represented by David Samson, a close political ally of Christie.

Christie Communications Director Maria Comella and press spokesman Colin Reed said in response to emails early yesterday evening that they could not confirm the issuance of a new round of requests for proposals for integrity monitors to audit Sandy programs. Treasury Department Communications Director William Quinn did not respond to an email last night, and the Department of Treasury’s superstorm Sandy Information page contained nothing on new requests for proposals. The Treasury Department has not issued a press release relating to Sandy initiatives since last March.

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NJ Spotlight, an independent online news service on issues critical to New Jersey, makes its in-depth reporting available to NewsWorks.

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