City Council 7/25/2007 Recap
7/26/2007 Update (renamed from “Hoboken City Paying Gigs”):
A stunning turn of events at the Hoboken City Council as a special meeting to consider 18 professional services contracts ended with the approval of only one as Mayor David Roberts threw a tantrum via cellular phone and rescinded the items from the agenda. The Council then heard from an angry public whose time was wasted by a dysfunctional city government, and some people very upset about the installation of Astroturf at Church Square Park. Here’s the recap…
How This Works
In the past professional services contracts were automatically approved by Mayor Roberts and his council to reward favored contractors who gave big bucks to “Pay To Play” with the Hudson County Democratic Organization. Other professionals knew not to even bother to bid, because the “Florio and Kennys” of the world always had the inside track thanks to their cozy relationships with the HCDO. A relic from that era is the local law that says the Mayor only has to advertise for RFQs for 10 days. This is plenty of time if you know you have the inside track to the Mayor’s office, but it’s not so much if you want to bid for new business in a competitive environment.
Today thanks to residents who supported People For Open Government’s city contractor “Pay To Play” ordinance, the doors to competition should be open. However, some watchers feel the word has not gotten out that things have changed in Hoboken, because some lucrative contracts only received one or two bids from the “usual suspects”. Once the RFQs come in the Roberts Administration evaluates them and submits the ones they believe are best to the council for approval.
The Meeting Begins
Council President Theresa Castellano called the meeting to order and began with a letter from the Mayor, which said “after a careful review and analysis of all the proposals… I am prepared to submit resolutions awarding the following professional services contracts for your approval.” This included a list of ten contracts and contractors. Roberts also wrote that while they city advertised for other professional services, he is “not prepared to submit resolutions” for various reasons as a review continued. The letter was clear that Roberts wanted 10 specific bidders awarded contracts, and expected the council to do it last night… or did he?
Did the City Do Enough To Get Bids?
2nd ward Councilwoman Beth Mason expressed concern about the way the administration handled the timing of the RFQs. She says notice ran in the Jersey Journal and Bergen Record on July 2nd and 3rd, and the RFQs were due to be submitted on July 10th and 11th. Mason noted the time frame included the 4th of July holiday week, when many people were on vacation. She called it “Less than optimal” and suggested the city look at opening up some of the contracts for a longer response time to bring in a healthy number of competitive proposals to make certain the city is approving the best deals available with the best contractors. She also noted Roberts didn’t bother to advertising the RFQs in the Star Ledger, where many more potential bidders would have seen it.
5th ward Councilman Peter Cunningham echoed those concerns, and said the council should review the city code that allows for only a minimum 10-day RFQ. He said it was “way too short” and that in some cases the city only got one response to the RFQ. Cunningham said he was disappointed by the response and noted some bidders didn’t even fully fill out the response sheet, making it harder for the city to consider whether it was truly the best proposal. 4th ward Councilwoman Dawn Zimmer agreed, as did members of the public. Taxpayer Bob DuVal, who is also an attorney, pointed out to the council that the reason why they didn’t get several bids for some contracts is the other lawyers out there look at the RFQs and say “Why should I waste my time on a formal quote for a piece of business I have no way of getting” because a Florio and Kenny or Scarinci and Hollenbeck has already been promised the contract.
Where did Peter Cammarano go?
While the council discussed wording of the contracts, including suggestions by 3rd ward councilman Michael Russo to add clauses to require contractors to appear at City Council meetings when needed, and allowing for contract termination for any reason, Councilman-at-Large Peter Cammarano was summoned away from the meeting by City Attorney Steven Kleinman. He comes back and Kleinman – with cellular phone in hand – summons Russo to leave the room for a chat. Russo comes back, and a short time later Kleinman comes back for Cammarano again. This starts to raise red flags in the audience. Something’s up, and people know it. This time Cammarano wouldn’t go. After the meeting people would hear that it was the Mayor on the phone, apparently trying to twist arms for contract approvals.
Item One: Financial Services Contract
Last year the city privatized it’s Finance Office to save an estimated $200,000 a year according to Business Administrator Richard England. Donahue, Gironda & Doria was paid $300,000 to run the office last year, and the reports about their work have been positive. This year the city also included oversight of Parking Utility finances in the contract. The firm made a $324,000 bid for the work, which was recommended by the administration for approval. Councilwoman-at-Large Terry LaBruno tried to unilaterally cut the contract by $10,000 to show she was “for the taxpayers”, but the council rejected the move, which 6th ward Councilman Nino Giacchi pointed out was actually rejecting the bid from a contractor who the council believed was doing a good job. When it came time to vote on the contract, LaBruno voted against it because she wanted to arbitrarily cut the amount, Cunningham and Zimmer voted against it because of concerns related to the process, including the fact that only two groups made bids. The other six council members approved the contract on its merits, and the Council President called for an unusual 5-minute recess at 7:18pm.
Roberts “Takes His Toys and Goes Home”
Nearly 15 minutes into a 5-minute recess, the meeting resumed only to have President Castellano entertain a motion to adjourn because they were informed the Mayor “removed his support” from the items on the agenda, so there was no reason to continue the meeting. The motion and second to adjourn came quickly, but Councilwoman Mason shouted over the din that she thought there needed to be a “Public Comment Portion” at the end of the meeting. Veteran members of the council said “not during a special meeting”, but Mason insisted on a legal opinion from Attorney Kleinman, who concurred with her. The veteran members were surprised because their previous attorneys told them it was not necessary to let the public speak at the end of “Special Meetings”.
The first question from the public was “What just happened here?” The public wanted an explanation why the meeting was being suddenly closed. Kleinman explained that by telephone the Mayor removed his support for the contracts he offered to the council, and therefore the council couldn’t vote on them. When asked why the Mayor removed his support in the middle of a meeting, no answers were given, and of course the Mayor was not there to explain his actions. People were left to speculate that Roberts knew the Council was not going to vote to approved one or more of the contracts, and would rather pull them all than let them embarrass him and his pals. Speculation turned to the Litigation/Workers Comp contract that Roberts wanted given to Florio and Kenny – the law firm of State Senator Bernard Kenny.
A woman named Gigi stepped up to angrily to point out that the Mayor set the agenda for the meeting, the public turned out for the meeting in response, and that she was unhappy that he would then pull the items in absentia. She and others wanted the council to vote on the contracts anyway, but Kleinman said the Mayor told him if they did, he would not sign them. Others echoed Gigi’s frustration about Roberts’ last minute move.
Heated Debate on Church Square Park Astroturf
Cheryl Fallick rose to say she was there to complain about the administration’s move to put Astroturf down where grass used to be at Church Square Park. She was told a city engineer recommended the work be done, and she was prepared to bring it up during the discussion about the engineer’s contract that Roberts pulled at the last minute. Noting the outrage over the $130,000 Astroturf project here on Hoboken411, Fallick asked the council to stop the project. The council said it did not have the power to do that, and that the complaints needed to go to the Mayor. The project was approved unanimously by the last City Council with little public comment.
For those who say they were not warned about the Astroturf contract, it was published here on Hoboken411 back in MARCH:
The Mayor must really love the feel of plastic grass, because he wants to award a $109,510.00 contract to put synthetic turf down in Church Square Park. Instead of following the Master Plan recommendations for creating new park space, Roberts keeps changing Church Square Park and calling it “new park amenities” in the fliers he sends with his tax bills.”
Other residents rose to complain about how the city is ruining CSP with more and more playgrounds and artificial surfaces. Councilman Russo said the decision was made in conjunction with the schools in that area that use the park for recess. The discussion got quite heated. Cunningham told people to call the Mayor’s office to complain because Roberts didn’t pull enough of the community in to make this decision. Mason said this debate shows there are not enough parks, passive and active open space for kids and adults alike, and that the issue needs to be addressed. Giacchi said though CSP is in his ward, he was never party to the Mayor’s discussions about whether or not to put Astroturf in the park, although he did vote to approve it with the rest of the council.
One particularly angry woman said CSP is a park, not a playground owned by the schools. She pointed out there are more adults in town than children, and ended up in a shouting match with Russo, followed by some volleys with LaBruno. Check it out on Channel 78.
What’s Next? Who knows?
The council’s next scheduled meeting is Wednesday, August 8th. Maybe the Mayor will put the contracts on that agenda, but then again, maybe he won’t.
7/25/2007 Update – City Council meets TONIGHT:
The “RFQ’s” are in, and the Hoboken City Council holds a special meeting at 6pm to consider who they are going to award millions of dollars in contracts to. These professional services contracts have been the epicenter of the “Pay To Play” fight. In the past politically connected contractors have traded campaign contributions for an inside track to the contracts.
Law Firms Want City Business
Before public contracting reform ordinances were passed bidders typically gave tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to Mayor David Roberts and his City Council members. State Senator Bernard Kenny’s law firm Florio and Kenny put in bids for three of the legal services contracts up for bid. Kenny’s firm reaps millions each year from having the inside track on contracts throughout Hudson County. Another politically connected law firm – Scarinci and Hollenbeck – also made bids.
With so many lawsuits pending against Mayor David Roberts and the City of Hoboken (and so many plaintiffs winning so much money for wrongful termination) the “Special Counsel-General” contract is quite popular, with 6 law firms bidding on the work. McManimon & Scotland, Florio & Kenny, Scarinci & Hollenbeck, Schwarz Simon Edelstein, Ravi Balla, and John Collins all want a piece of this.
When the City Borrows, They Get Paid
In 6 years as Mayor, Roberts has handed over a small fortune to professionals who the handle the city’s bonding. Whether it’s re-financing old debt at a higher rate to avoid a balloon payment, borrowing against the value of the Municipal Garage to fill budget gaps, or borrowing to keep St. Mary Hospital open for a few more years, the Special Bonds Counsel has been kept fat and happy. Mc Manimon & Scotland, Hawkins, Delafield and Wood, Parker, McKay & Crisuolo, and Gluck Walrath are bidding on that one.
The “Special Counsel for Redevelopment” has also raked it in thanks to Roberts and his efforts to make most of the city a high-rise “redevelopment zone”. They get paid every time there is a meeting on the Southwest Redevelopment, Western Edge, Municipal Garage, NoHo or any of the other zones. Three law firms are bidding on that work, with another three bidding to be the lawyers for the Alchoholic Beverage Control Board. Only Florio and Kenny bid for the Workers Compensation contract, while Ravi Bhalla was the only bidder on the Rent Control contracts.
Auditors, Parking Consultants, Engineers…
Ernst and Young probably got tired of taking abuse from Hoboken, because they didn’t bother to bid on their “Auditor” contract. The council will have to choose between Wiss & Company, Garbarni, MBC Accountants, and Homan & Frenia. Krivit and Krivit was the only bidder on the “Grant Consultant” contract. This firm has been accused of violating the city’s “Pay To Play” law by People for Open Government, making campaign contributions in violation of the ordinance.
Rich & Associates, Urbatran, and Bier Associates all made bids on the “Parking Consultant” contract a lot of 411 readers have weighed in on. Meadowlands Associates and By Jones each want a piece of that “Media Consultant” money. Longtime city Planner Vandor & Vandor faces a challenge for the “Planner” contract from Schoor Depalma, which is also one of nine groups bidding for the highly lucrative “City Engineer” contract. Schoor is competing with MacGuire Group, Birdsall Engineering, Maser, Alamo Group, Boswell, H2M Group, Remington & Vernick, and T&M.
The council takes up all this and more at 6pm at City Hall.
FYI, those willing to present a decent “Request for Qualifications” (at least that’s what I called it during my 14 year corporate career), here’s a list of “Professional Services” required by the City of Hoboken. I just wonder why no one who’s currently on the payroll can perform these jobs sufficiently? Why do so many jobs need to be outsourced? Who are we paying, and for what?
Requests for QUOTES for Professional Services
NEW July 2007
- “Workers Compensation Third-Party Administrator”
- “Special Counsel – to ABC”
- “Auditor” for the City of Hoboken
- “Special Counsel – Bond” to the City of Hoboken
- “City Planner” for the City of Hoboken
- “Engineer – General” to the City of Hoboken
- “Financial Services” to the City of Hoboken
- “Federal and State Grant Consultant”
- “Special Counsel – Labor” to the City of Hoboken
- “Media Consultant” to the City of Hoboken
- “Parking Consultant – Hoboken Parking Utility”
- “Special Counsel – Real Estate and Development”
- “Special Counsel – Rent Control”
- “Special Counsel – Rent Control Litigation”
- “Preparation of a Downtown Hoboken Transit-Oriented Plan”
- “Special Counsel – Redevelopment” to the City of Hoboken
- “Special Counsel – General” to the City of Hoboken
- “Special Counsel – Workers Compensation”