By Art Gallagher
Assemblyman Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson), Chairman of the Assembly Budget Committee, and Senate President Steve Sweeney told The Star Ledger that they are going to investigate the lucrative no-bid state contract that AshBrit received from the Christie Administration for Superstorm Sandy clean up and the well connected lobbyists the company used to sell their premium priced services to municipal officials from Sandy ravaged communities.
“We already had questions about how Sandy relief money was being spent, and these findings raise those questions to a new level,” Prieto told The Star-Ledger. “This money is supposed to be spent properly to benefit New Jersey residents and communities devastated by Sandy, not become a feeding frenzy for lobbyists and an excuse to bypass regulations on business, the environment and pay-to-play.”
As a conservative, it warms my heart to see Democrats fighting wasteful spending. Maybe Trenton really has been turned upside down.
As a skeptic, I expect that whatever hearings the Democrats hold will be done with the intention of denting Governor Christie’s substantial Sandy related armor going into the November election.
I don’t see Christie or his administration as the bad guys in this brewing controversy. Not yet, at least, and I hope never. The administration and Republican legislators should cooperate with the investigations. Expose the gouging, if there was gouging. Expose the political profiteers, if there was political profiteering.
In the days before and after the storm, Christie said that he was consulting with current and former governors from Southern and Gulf States who have previously been through devastating hurricanes. If AshBrit came highly recommended by trusted people who have been through similar emergencies, it makes sense that the administration contracted with them. We were in catastrophic life threatening circumstances. There was no time to waste on red tape. “Act first and ask forgiveness later” was the charge that Christie was giving to his troops, to municipal officials and to first responders. Appropriately so. If the Christie administration was duped into giving a contract to the most expensive competent operator, the job still got done. Ask for forgiveness for spending too much to get it done. Getting the job done was paramount.
And the lesson has apparently been learned. Four companies were approved for contracts to handle clean up from future storms. AshBrit was the most expensive of the four. At least they have competition going forward.
One of AshBrit’s selling points, that the administration passed on to municipalities in recommending the Florida company who, as a result of the state contract did not have to comply with certain environmental rules, was that based upon their experience in previous storms, the municipalities would get the maximum reimbursement from FEMA for the company’s work.
FEMA is expected to reimburse 75% of the clean up costs. According The Star Ledger reports, AshBrit was charging roughly
75% (corrected) 4 times more than other contractors. If that proves to be true, the “FEMA savings” associated with AshBrit’s experience will be non-existent.
If there are bad guys in this controversy, let is be AshBrit and especially the company’s political profiteering agents. If current and former “public servants” like George Gilmore, Maggie Moran, Kris Kullari and Jon Bombardieri were excessively compensated for selling clean up services while countless volunteers, individuals and business, were breaking their backs, opening their homes and opening their wallets to care for neighbors who were in harms way and suffered devastating blows, let’s find that out and act accordingly. No matter who their friends are.
If AshBrit and their agents did good work at fair prices without exploiting their special status, let’s thank them for a job well done and give them a plaque.
Either way, let’s find out.