North America

Sandy contracts in N.J. town become an issue

BRICK, N.J. — Three firms with ties to a New Jersey mayor's past political campaigns will receive more than $1 million in payments for Superstorm Sandy-related work — including a costly door-to-door storm survey that will determine the total impact on this municipality of 75,000 residents.
Councilman John Ducey, a Democrat and candidate for mayor of Brick, N.J., accused Republican Mayor Stephen C. Acropolis of steering Sandy recovery money to politically connected engineering firms that do business with the township. Acropolis announced earlier he is not seeking re-election. During the last two years, Acropolis and Ducey have battled over a variety of issues, including taxes, township spending and professional appointments.
An Asbury Park (N.J.) Press examination of public records found that engineering firms Alaimo Group, French & Parrello, and Remington & Vernick contributed a total of $26,000 to Republican township council candidates approximately three weeks before the township awarded a lucrative contract to the three firms for a Sandy impact study. In the past, the firms have contributed to the campaigns of Acropolis and other local GOP candidates. Democrats currently hold a 4 to 3 edge on the council, but control of the council is up for grabs during the November election.
Acropolis said it is common and legal for political candidates to receive campaign contributions from contractors and that Ducey is trying to score political points at the expense of Sandy victims.
"In the state of New Jersey, attorneys, engineers, and other professionals donate to political campaigns; they are allowed to," said Acropolis.
Assessing the damage
The township was one of the hardest-hit municipalities in Ocean County, N.J., when Sandy made landfall Oct. 29, damaging approximately 8,500 homes. The money for the survey will come from a $29 million special appropriation, that will be covered in part by federal recovery funding.
The township paid the three firms in May to conduct the impact study throughout the township. The survey includes engineers going door-to-door inspecting homes for damage. The Mitigation Assessment and Strategy survey, as it's called, will explore ways to strengthen and protect infrastructure as well as individual properties against future natural hazard impacts, such as wind, flood and wildfire. Township officials have said the survey will put them in a better position to receive federal aid.
Alaimo, based in Mount Holly, N.J., will be paid $357,000; French & Parrello, located in Wall, N.J., will be paid $349,000; and Remington & Vernick, based in Toms River, N.J., will be paid $294,000 for their Sandy-related work, according to township records.
In the last 10 years, the contributions by the three firms to the campaigns of Acropolis and other Republicans totaled more than $120,000. Included in the $120,000 are more than $14,600 in contributions to Acropolis' campaigns through the years, according to state election records.
Profiteering or essential work?
On April 12, the campaign committee for the current Republican ticket received a $10,400 contribution from the Alaimo group. On April 26, the ticket received a $2,600 contribution from French & Parrello and a $10,400 contribution from Remington & Vernick.
"I have read about this kind of storm profiteering in other towns, but to see Mayor Acropolis facilitating this in Brick is an outrage," said Ducey. "Diverting emergency funds meant for homeowners to politically connected engineering firms is completely unconscionable. As far as I know, Brick is the only town on the Jersey Shore that has retained highly paid engineers to do this 'door-to-door survey' work, which is a complete waste of money."
While Brick is spending taxpayer money on the survey, neighboring Toms River took a different approach to determine the impact of the historic storm. Toms River is using Federal Emergency Management Agency employees to survey damage at no cost to the township, said Paul J. Shives, the Toms River administrator.
The firms were approved to do work for Brick in January as part of the township's engineering pool. No contract between the firms was ever approved by the Township Council because of the engineering pool arrangement, said Scott Pezarras, the township administrator.
The township has a pool of six engineering firms that they use for projects. Projects are awarded based on proposals that are submitted and then approved by the mayor.
Township officials approved French & Parrello and Remington & Vernick to move forward with work May 29, while Alaimo's proposal was accepted May 31. Acropolis announced the survey program April 16.
"To me the most interesting fact is that the donations to this year's campaign were made within weeks or even days of when they received the lucrative job to go door to door," Ducey said, who has been a vocal critic of the survey.
Acropolis said he has done nothing wrong.
"John Ducey is acting like a hypocrite. He has taken political donations from firms. If he had not, he would have every reason to speak about it," the mayor said.
According to the state election commission, Ducey did not raise enough money to meet the reporting threshold and therefore did not have to list contributors for the recently completed primary.
Acropolis accused Ducey of making the recovery from the devastating storm a political issue.
"The money is being spent to help people," Acropolis said regarding the $1 million survey. "He is making it political and would be delaying the process if he was in charge."
Calls to the three firms were not returned.
"The taxpayers should know where the money is being spent before it is approved," Ducey said. "The (Sandy recovery) money should be directed to Sandy victims, where it belongs."

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