Tuesday, May 1, 2007

No-bidding Bergen

I was struck on Friday, while perusing the Public Notices in the Record (page B-9) at the sheer amount of non-competitive bid (no-bid) contracts the Bergen County Freeholders handed out on April 18th. An astonishing $797,220, all without bid. Here's the way the Freeholders get to do it, and yes it's perfectly legal (NJSA 40A:11-5(1)(a)):

Professional services. The governing body shall in each instance state supporting reasons for its action in the resolution awarding each contract and shall forthwith cause to be printed once, in the official newspaper, a brief notice stating the nature, duration, service and amount of the contract, and that the resolution and contract are on file and available for public inspection in the office of the clerk of the county or municipality, or, in the case of a contracting unit created by more than one county or municipality, of the counties or municipalities creating such contracting unit
Two of the bids raised questions for me. The first is $50,000 for David S. Lafferty, a lawyer and municipal judge, who is being paid to "Provide Legal Services Related to Bail Bond Forfeitures." Now, Mr. Lafferty may be the premier Bail Bond Forfeiture expert in the Northeast; but we wouldn't know it without a competitive bid. Without having an open explanation either on the Clerk's website or the Freeholders' website we actually don't know much. The Freeholders see is it fit to put up Commemorative Resolutions, but not ones allowing no-bid contracts.

The other one that struck me as odd was $663,720 to "Provide Healthcare Management Services" at the Bergen County Jail for a year. Once again, Correctional Health Services, Inc. (CHS) could be the best qualified provider, but because they didn't win a competitive bid we can't be sure. The County Watchers, a blog following Union County, doesn't give them particularly high marks. What makes it even more odd is that today on Page S-13 of the Record, a competitive bid for food service at the jail was announced. Why bid one and not the other?

Without knowing if they're the best for the job, we're left to speculate. Hmmmm. One thing both contract winners have in common is heavy political donations. With Papa Joe's affinity for giving contracts and patronage jobs to donors, could there be a connection? I can't say for sure.

According to ELEC, Mr. Lafferty has contributed nearly $24,000 to the Bergen County Democratic Organization since 1999. The folks over at fairlawnonline.com put the total for he and his law firm at nearly $30,000. With CHS, it's something to watch for. They have been very active in Union and Essex County. In addition, former CEO and current Verona Councilman Robert Detore cut a check for $27,000 to the State party back in 2001. It does make one wonder.

In a state known as a worldwide punch-line for political corruption, no-bid contracts like those listed above don't help things. A way to close the credibility gap of the process is getting the resolutions on-line, either at the Clerk's or Freeholders' website. List the qualifications and the reasons and let voters decide if we're getting a good bang for the buck.

In the long run, taxpayers would best be served by eliminating the exception listed above. It nullifies the $17,500 threshold that is supposed to trigger a bidding process, and opens the door to abuse and the credibility issues of our County leadership. It's going to take elected officials with the moral fortitude to make the change, or the Republican Party to stop imploding and start offering credible opposition. One way or another, this process needs to come to an end.

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