For Immediate Release:
March 11, 2013
After Friday's hearing, we have more questions than answers about the no-bid Hurricane Sandy cleanup contract awarded to AshBritt that has raised new concerns about pay-to-play deals in the Christie Administration. Even AshBritt’s argument that FEMA “blessed” the contract during discussions with the Christie administration was directly contradicted by FEMA.
What we do know is troubling—AshBritt asked its lobbyist and Christie mentor Haley Barbour to call Christie on the company's behalf. Days later, AshBritt received the no-bid contract and has since given $50,000 to the Republican Governor's Association to support Christie's reelection. Just last month, Barbour's business partner and AshBritt lobbyist hosted a lavish fundraiser for Christie in Virginia. It's time that New Jerseyans get the whole story on why a politically connected, out-of-state firm was selected to clean up New Jersey at far higher rates than its competitors.
Just in case you missed any of it, here's a sampling of reactions to the hearing.
Buono shares heated exchange with AshBritt CEO over "piggybacking" contract
Matthew Arco // PolitickerNJ
Near the onset of a joint legislative oversight hearing called to discuss the state’s debris removal contract with the Florida-based AshBritt Inc., Sen. Barbara Buono, (D-18), asked AshBritt CEO Randy Perkins whether he was aware that “piggybacking” the state’s cleanup contract off another state’s bidding process could jeopardize Federal Emergency Management Agency funding.
FEMA 'blessed' Christie's decision to award no-bid contract, AshBritt head says
Jarrett Renshaw // The Star-Ledger
"Before our contract was signed by the state of New Jersey — this is fact, back to checking the facts — the lead counsel, the head counsel for FEMA ... and the federal government, prior to us starting work, signed off on the contracting process that the state of New Jersey was using. They blessed it, they anointed it and the state signed it."
But FEMA officials said while they are aware of the contract, the agency has not rendered any opinion.
"There was no blessing of the contract," Lars Anderson, Director of Public Affairs, said.
In a statement, the agency noted: "Neither the administrator nor the chief counsel ‘approve’ contracts entered into by State or local governments."
...The first legislative hearing on AshBritt's contract has been at times combative, particularly when state Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex), the leading Democratic candidate for governor, has grilled Perkins.
She used her time to criticize Christie for not having a contract in place before the storm, as well as raising questions about whether the firm's generous rates will jeopardize reimbursements.
"It appears the governor gave a no-bid contract to a politically-connected firm that has charged double the rates," Buono said.
Report disputes AshBritt's claim contract was 'blessed' by FEMA
Matthew Arco // PolitickerNJ
Randy Perkins, CEO of the Florida-based debris removal company AshBritt, told lawmakers Friday FEMA “signed off on the contracting process” and that high-ranking officials, including the agency’s head of council, were at the table when New Jersey “piggybacked” off of an out-of-state contract.
However, FEMA gave a conflicting account, telling The Star-Ledger during the Friday hearing that the agency had not “blessed” Gov. Chris Christie decision to award the contract to Perkins’ company.
NJ lawmakers clash over post-Sandy debris contract
Geoff Mulvihill // Associated Press
During questioning, Perkins told Buono: "It's been stated here that this is not a political event. But with all due respect, you're running for governor."
He later apologized, but not before being reminded by Weinberg that Christie also is running for governor.
New Jersey Governor's Race Overshadows Sandy Cleanup Hearing
John Celock // Huffington Post
"With all due respect, you are running for governor," Perkins responded to a series of Buono's questions.
"That is inappropriate," Buono shot back. "That is a disservice to the people who elected me."
Debris hauler AshBritt defends NJ deal for Sandy work
Shawn Boburg // The Record
A spokesman for FEMA confirmed Friday that the agency “agreed” New Jersey could go forward but also said the contract will still undergo a review process, which includes a determination as to whether the rates New Jersey paid are “fair and reasonable.”
If they aren’t, the towns that hired AshBritt under the state contract would be on the hook for the difference.
GOP defends choice of AshBritt, despite cost
Bob Jordan // Asbury Park Press
But Buono couldn’t get Perkins to give up details of AshBritt’s initial outreach to state officials.
“This contract was entered into 24 hours after the storm hit. Who did you contact?” Buono said.
“I don’t have timelines,” Perkins responded. “I don’t have a specific time and date when these calls took place.”
“I’m just a little confused because Mr. Barbour has stated that he reached out to Gov. Christie and recommended that they hire you,” Buono said.
N.J.'s post-Sandy contractor spars with Democrats in hearing
Matt Katz // Philadelphia Inquirer
Democrats focused on how, instead of bidding out the deal, which Christie and AshBritt officials said would have taken too long, Christie simply adopted a long-standing recovery contract that AshBritt had with Connecticut. Since the Federal Emergency Management Agency discourages one state from "piggybacking" off another, Buono asked, doesn't New Jersey risk losing out on federal reimbursements?
Perkins did not answer immediately, and Buono interrupted him. He shot back: "No, you're not listening…With all due respect, I'm not trying to be combative."