2/21/2011 UPDATE: State Comptroller’s inquiry into Zimmer’s award of Public Contracts may expand to Corporation Counsel’s office

NJ Inquiry into Hoboken may expand

Already under fire for awarding hundreds of thousands of dollars of public contracts in a manner that “lacked accountability and transparency,” Mayor Dawn Zimmer may face additional state scrutiny of her choice of City Attorney. Informed sources tell Hoboken411 that the State Comptroller’s sweeping rebuke of Hoboken’s public contracting procedures may expand to include a review of over $300,000 in attorney contracts awarded by Zimmer and her allies to State Senator Ray Lesniak’s law firm.

Tabakin made Corporation Counsel, additional contracts awarded to his firm

In September of 2010, Mayor Zimmer parted ways with her second Corporation Counsel – Michael Kates – who took the fall for her inept bumbling of the sale and relocation of the Municipal Garage. After that $25.5 million dollar debacle launched more lawsuits, Zimmer brought in Weiner Lesniak partner Mark Tabakin to be interim Corporation Counsel.

Tabakin was given a $103,000 contract to work three days a week for Hoboken, plus another $10,000 to work on Municipal Garage Sale-related litigation. On top of that – Tabakin’s politically connected law firm – Weiner Lesniak – was given an additional $200,000 no-bid contract for “other employment related lawsuits” facing the city.

The problem? Tabakin is serving two masters as Corporation Counsel.

Hoboken’s conflicts similar to those already under state investigation in Ridgefield

When Weiner Lesniak’s hourly bills come in for the Corporation Counsel’s review, will Tabakin represent the City of Hoboken’s best interests, or the interests of the firm he’s a partner in? This is yet another frontier the State Comptroller’s office may already be investigating following a similar review in Ridgefield. According to The Bergen Record, Comptroller’s Office Procurement Division Director Dorothy Donnely found the Borough Attorney had double billed the city for his law firm, in effect getting the firm paid twice for service. The attorney, Douglas Doyle, received a retainer AND approved hourly payments for his law firm (DeCotiis, Fitzpatrick & Cole) in violation of state guidelines. Donnely also argued that Doyle “routinely” billed at an hourly rate for attending meetings and drafting ordinances and resolutions, despite the fact that such services were included as part of the retainer. It’s believed the Comptroller is now taking a look at Zimmer’s multiple contract arrangements with Weiner Lesniak.

Zimmers auditing firm contract also in question

As Hoboken411 reported first on Saturday, the State Comptroller criticized the awarding of several contracts, including the city’s Auditor contract with the firm of Ferraioli, Wielkotz, Cerullo & Cuva.

At last week’s marathon City Council meeting, Zimmer’s allies implored the Council to reject the low bidders for the auditor contract, which was recommended after review by the council subcommittee, and instead go with Zimmer’s choice of the high bidder – Ferraioli. Two other bidders were ignored by Zimmer as she pushed the $80,000 contract for her choice. 5th ward Councilman Peter Cunningham led the charge to hire the firm whose original contract we now learn the State Comptroller was telling Zimmer was not awarded in “a Fair and Open process.”

Zimmer and Business Administrator Arch Liston knew this was the case – but didn’t inform the City Council of the Comptroller’s findings. The resolution to award the contract this week was tabled by a 5-4 vote. Zimmer’s allies voted against tabling the contract.

After the jump, see the original story Hoboken411 broke this weekend on the scathing February 1st letter from the State Comptroller’s office that Mayor Dawn Zimmer and her directors hid from the public and City Council.

2/19/2011:

BREAKING: State Comptroller steps in to oversee Dawn Zimmer’s Public Contracts, finds City in violation of Public Contracting Laws

Zimmer and Liston hide Comptroller investigation from City Council and Public

The New Jersey State Comptroller is cracking down on violations of Public Contracting laws by the administration of Mayor Dawn Zimmer. In a letter obtained by Hoboken411 to Business Administrator Arch Liston dated February 1st, 2011, Procurement Division Director Dorothy Donnelly outlines violations by Zimmer and her allies in awarding lucrative Professional Services Contracts for Labor Counsel, Auditor, Risk Manager and Planner. This letter indicates the state has been investigating Zimmer’s contracting practices for the past year.

Zimmer calls her actions “Fair and Open Process”, State disagrees

Zimmer and her hand-picked Business Administrator Arch Liston claim they use a “Fair and Open Process” to select all contractors who will be paid over $17,500, which is the state threshold. Those contractors actually received contracts up to and beyond $100,000 in value. When the State Comptroller looked into their claims they found something quite
different, and cited five criteria of the “Fair and Open Process” law that Zimmer violated before awarding several big-dollar contracts. The violations are outlined in detail in the letter.

State: Zimmer’s process “lacked accountability and transparency”

Zimmer and Liston have known the state was looking into their Public Contracting actions, but have said nothing to the City Council charged with acting on their contract recommendations. From August of 2009 to January of 2011 (17 months) Zimmer had full control over contracts through her allies in the old majority on the City Council. These public contracts routinely sailed through on her say-so until last week.

A subcommittee of the City Council reviewed a proposal for the 2011 City Auditor contract, and decided to go with the low bidder that would save the city about $20,000. Zimmer overruled the decision, and directed the City Attorney to draft a resolution awarding the contract to a higher bidder. The new council majority protested, and the contract was rejected. Today the new council majority appears vindicated, since the state is now calling Zimmer’s bidding procedures into serious question.

State forces Zimmer to clean up her act or face penalties

The State Comptroller is requiring the Zimmer Administration to prepare an Action Plan to address multiple egregious deficiencies in the City’s vendor procurement process ranging from conflicts screening, employee training, to vendor selection (pay-to-play). All existing City vendor contracts are called into question by Zimmer’s violations.

Her decision to hide the state investigation while launching multiple “Ethics Reform” intitaives against the Council and City Employees is seen as yet another example of how Zimmer will use her bully pulpit to attack others as a diversionary tactic for the press and public. Had a city employee leaked the Comptroller Letter to the press under Zimmer, Liston and Melli’s draconian new information control rules they could face dismissal, loss of their pension and medical benefits.

Hiding public information and state investigations from the taxpayers that could embarrass Zimmer is the primary reason why Liston and Melli are putting the rules into effect. The State Comptroller’s letter outlining Zimmer’s violations is Exhibit A in the case why they should not be allowed to do it.

Click Here to read the February 1st Directive from State Comptroller to City of Hoboken that Dawn Zimmer, Arch Liston and Juan Melli don’t want you to see.