Sweeney: Sandy oversight report was ‘not acceptable’
State Senate President Steve Sweeney was joined at a press conference Monday by housing advocates to criticize the Christie administration for the lack of details in the recently-released Superstorm Sandy integrity monitor reports.
Sweeney (D-West Deptford) said that when he introduced legislation creating the monitors, he expected detailed reports, and he anticipated that Gov. Chris Christie would deliver them.
“We have a Mastro report that has 344 pages and cost $3 million," Sweeney said. "I’ve got an integrity monitor’s report with 24 pages for $5 million. I think we got cheated. Obviously this is not acceptable.”
The Mastro report reference was to the internal probe of the Bridgegate scandal conducted by Randy Mastro of Gibson, Dunn & Krutcher. The report was commissioned by Christie and cleared the governor of any involvement or wrongdoing in the unannounced lane closures at the George Washington Bridge in September.
“We don’t want to blame, point fingers, call names; what we want to do is make sure that when we’re spending taxpayers’ money that it’s being spent in a wise fashion and not in a wasteful fashion," Sweeney said. "Whether it’s good, bad, we need the public to understand whether we’ve done things right or wrong."
Every report should be released now, according to Adam Gordon, the staff attorney for the Fair Share Housing Center.
“It’s really important to make sure this (federal Sandy recovery) money is being spent fairly and effectively, but it also is really important because people still today don’t know in many instances why they may have been rejected from programs, why they didn’t hear back from programs,” Gordon said.
The organization hired by the Department of Community Affairs to serve as the Integrity Oversight Monitor is CohnReznick. Sweeney said it is very disappointing that the reports did not include information on that contract. He said it is wrong that some details were not made public due to claims that they were not public information.
“We want detail, we want to know what we did right and what we did wrong," Sweeney said. "We spent $5 million on these reports. If you’re going to spend $5 million, you get more than 24 pages. If the report was glowing, I’m sure we would have seen it in a much more detailed report."
Christie spokesperson Michael Drewniak said the program actually costs less than the figure Sweeney is suggesting.
“We have no idea where the Senate President is getting his $5 million figure," Drewniak said. "It’s completely false. The cost to date is a fraction of that, and the program is in full compliance with the statute that Senator Sweeney himself sponsored."
Drewniak said the contracts, open to review per Sweeney’s legislation, are $5 million or higher.
State Treasury spokesman Christopher Santarelli said in an emailed statement that "the law, and its provisions for quarterly reporting, have been followed exactly as written."
He added that "the total cost of the reports distributed to the legislature and governor this month is clearly listed in each report, and a fraction of the $5 million figure claimed by the Senate President today."
The figures he provided are as follows:
- Project: Belmar Boardwalk. Total Costs: $59,951.05, as listed on Page 1 of the report.
- Project: Atlantic Highlands. Total Costs: (total expenses + total hours x rate per employee as listed on Page 6 of the report): $14,977.5
- Project: DCA Contracts. Total Costs: (total expenses + total fees incurred as listed on Page 5 of report): $13,075.25
- Project: Perth Amboy Marina, Promenade and Bulkheads. Total Costs: $21,628.12, as listed on Page 4 of the report.
- Project: City of Elizabeth Veterans Memorial Waterfront Park.
Chris Donnelly, a spokesman for Sweeney, said however that the $5 million figure is, in fact, accurate if you consider that the state has a two-year, $9.2 million contract with Ernst and Young to build the original pool of companies that would be considered for Sandy contracts. He said Ernst and Young has spent about $4 million so far. He said the state’s contract with CohnReznick is for $500,000 and hundreds of thousands has been spent to date for various other oversight work.