Trenton — New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s role in doling out reconstruction monies after Super Storm Sandy needs a thorough independent audit, according to a request filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) with the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) Office of Inspector General. The organization cites state departures from federal requirements in the $10.5 billion program that have wasted funds or diverted relief from those entitled to it.
Currently, there are at least two federal investigations into New Jersey’s post-storm efforts:
- The no-bid award of an improper piggy-back debris removal master contract to Florida-based AshBritt Inc., at the urging of its lobbyist and Christie supporter former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, is under review by the U.S. Homeland Security Office of Inspector General; and
- The $4.7 million media contract which produced the “Stronger Than the Storm” TV ad campaign featuring Gov. Christie and his family is being probed by the HUD Inspector General, at the request of U.S. Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ).
Citing the fact that a key state auditing-oversight contract of post-Sandy funds was awarded to the law firm headed by David Samson, Christie’s campaign counsel, head of his gubernatorial transition and his appointee to the Board of Commissioners of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, PEER is asking for federal review of how these funds are being spent. Adding to the incestuous nature of these arrangements, the principal in Samson’s firm overseeing audit management of the state Department of Community Affairs is Lori Grifa, Christie’s director of that same agency from 2010 to 2012.
“The people profiting from Sandy’s devastation appear to be Christie insiders,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, noting that most of the relief funds have yet to be released to stricken home-owners. “The Christie TV ads are small potatoes compared to the rest of this mega-pork pie.”
The PEER request to the HUD Inspector General asks that it broaden its current investigation to include –
- State non-compliance with federal rules requiring that infrastructure projects increase “resilience” to the effects of climate change, elements utterly absent from the New Jersey post-storm strategy;
- Absence of the required “transparent and inclusive process” leading to project selection; and
- Waiver of standards for replacing critical public infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, and bulkheads, designed to prevent them from being damaged again. A prime example was the fire burning down the Seaside Park boardwalk re-built with damaged materials, draining away $15 million in reconstruction funds.
“Little of what has happened in New Jersey can withstand outside scrutiny,” Wolfe added. “It is important that these reviews take place now so that folks who actually deserve the funds still have a chance of obtaining them.”
New Jersey PEER is a state chapter of a national alliance of state and federal agency resource professionals working to ensure environmental ethics and government accountability