N.J. withholds Sandy integrity monitoring reports

Posted: March 01, 2014

With its now-terminated $68 million Sandy housing-recovery contract under increasing scrutiny, the Christie administration is refusing to release reports from Sandy integrity monitors, required by a law passed nearly a year ago, a housing group says.

The state law, implemented this month, requires monitors for all Sandy-related contracts above $5 million.

The Fair Share Housing Center, a Cherry Hill-based advocacy group that has tangled with the administration over transparency and other issues, said Thursday that it had been notified that the reports would not be made public because the state considered them "draft reports" and as such "exempted in their entirety as advisory and consultative documents."

Fair Share attorney Kevin Walsh questioned why reports would be in draft form. "Is the administration editing the reports provided to it? Are integrity monitors functioning in an independent fashion, as intended by the act requiring them, or simply acting as agents of the administration?"

The state did not return a request for comment.

Walsh said the denials comprise a "troubling pattern" for a recovery effort that has come under intense criticism from storm victims. Gov. Christie and his cabinet have heard from angry residents at several public forums over the last few weeks.

On Wednesday, the state made public documents that showed that the Louisiana-based firm of Hammerman & Gainer Inc. (HGI) billed the state $51 million for about eight months of work, of which $18 million is still outstanding.

The total contract with the company - hired to roll out and manage the state's main homeowner grant program - was for $68 million and was to cover three years.

The company was fired in December over what the Department of Community Affairs now describes as "performance-related" concerns.

Sandy victims complained of lost paperwork, redundancies, and slow fund disbursal. In the documents, uncovered through an open-records request by Fair Share Housing, the company complains that the state's expectations exceeded the initial contract.

Walsh said the state contended that weekly and monthly reports required from HGI did not exist.

"People are mad that the state is doing a bad job, and are only going to get madder when the state edits or hides documents," Walsh said.

State officials have blamed cumbersome federal guidelines for many of the delays and said they terminated the HGI contract after failing to resolve concerns raised by victims. They also point to New York's equivalent program, which has not yet released funds to anyone.


arosenberg@phillynews.com

609-823-0453

@amysrosenberg

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