Monday, February 3, 2014

Bridge - Gate and Sandy - Gate updates February 3 , 2014 - Items of the day surrounding the Chris Christie Scandal-A-Ramas !

Sandy - Gate ?


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An in-depth analysis by NJ Spotlight in collaboration with WNYC/NJ Public Radio has discovered multiple irregularities in how funds have been allocated through the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program Energy Allocation Initiative -- the program at the heart of Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s allegations against the Christie administration.
An examination of the fund shows that despite a scoring system that awarded various towns and cities points for eligibility based on factors such as population size, population density, and previous FEMA claims, Hoboken has been awarded the same amount -- $142,080 -- as much smaller towns like Mt. Arlington and Old Tappan, neither of which experienced much damage from Sandy or previous storms.
And Hoboken was awarded far less than Nutley, which was allocated $556,000, despite being relatively unscathed by the storm.
Responding to inquiries from NJ Spotlight, a Department of Environmental Protection spokesman said a proper, objective process was followed in the scoring and ranking of these applications, and that it’s ongoing, so some of these awards might still be adjusted before they’re finalized and checks are cut. He said it’s unfair to draw conclusions from the data at this point. But many details about the behind-the-scenes process remain unclear, and the problems seem to extend beyond simply a few errant numbers.
This investigation's findings could lend credence to Zimmer’s claim that the Christie administration withheld Sandy aid from her city because she didn’t support a redevelopment project. Hoboken had submitted a $1.3 million proposal to purchase a dozen backup generators for use throughout the city, but it was awarded only about one tenth of what it asked for.
A list obtained from the Governor’s Office of Recovery and Rebuilding -- the department overseeing the Sandy recovery process -- shows that dozens of municipalities have been awarded exactly the same amount as Hoboken, while others got more or less. So at first glance, nothing looks too out of the ordinary. But a closer examination raises questions about whether there might be more than meets the eye.
In addition to questions about Hoboken’s funding, the NJ Spotlight analysis has found that Jersey City -- the state’s second largest city -- was awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars less than Newark and Elizabeth, cities of comparable size and storm damage. Jersey City’s mayor, Democrat Steven Fulop, has said he’s felt punished in other ways because he didn’t endorse Gov. Chris Christie for reelection last year.

No Easy Answers

Though there’s sure to be speculation, there’s no proof at this point that politics necessarily played a role in state decisions about who got help and who did not in the aftermath of Sandy. That charge has been vociferously denied by the governor’s office and state officials, and an analysis of the data found several examples of towns where Democratic mayors who endorsed Christie applied for aid and didn’t get it.
What does appear to be clear from numerous conversations with involved parties is that despite a series of mandatory briefings and training workshops -- where state officials say they did their best to explain the mechanics of the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program -- the application and decision-making process remained murky and confusing for many.
NJ Spotlight has filed public records requests to obtain copies of letters of intent submitted by a number of municipalities that applied for the program. That has uncovered a wide variety of approaches and styles, with some municipalities submitting a separate proposal for each backup generator, for example, while others lumped their requests into a single LOI. Some representatives of municipalities surveyed said they were unaware of the ranking criteria and might have prepared their applications differently had they been better informed.
Speaking privately, one individual involved with the program said the general feeling was that there was little guidance given to municipalities and that state officials were basically flying by the seats of their pants, struggling to respond to an unprecedented disaster without getting overwhelmed and often figuring things out as they went along. In the end, this individual said, with hardly enough federal money in the program to satisfy the demand, it seemed destined for failure and “everyone got screwed” in the end.
As the governor’s office has rightfully noted in press releases responding to Zimmer’s allegations, the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program is not money for direct repair of Sandy damage, but rather aid to help municipalities prepare for future storms.
The HMGP kicks in once the President issues a federal disaster declaration for an area, as Obama did for eight coastal counties in New Jersey after Sandy. The amount of HMGP funding that's handed out to a particular state is calculated using a formula based on the combined total of FEMA Public assistance, FEMA individual assistance and Small Business Administration loans.
In New Jersey, total Sandy HMGP funding came to around $300 million. It’s worth noting that Hazard Mitigation money does not come out of the $50 billion in Sandy recovery funding Congress authorized. Rather, it's a separate allocation under theStafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act.
Responding to Mayor Zimmer’s claims that Sandy funds were “held hostage,” the governor’s office shot out a series of statements noting that Hoboken has received nearly $70 million in storm recovery and rebuilding aid to date, but as noted earlier, this is different from HMGP money. The $70 million figure includes FEMA aid to individuals, federal flood insurance payouts, SBA loans, and grants to local businesses. Much of this money came directly from the federal government -- without state officials having a say in the matter -- and most of it was aimed at individuals and business owners rather than at Hoboken’s city government.
Even out of the $300 million HMGP pot, two-thirds of the money has been earmarked for individuals rather than local municipalities. Of the six HMGP programs, $100 million is going to help residents elevate their homes, and another $100 million is going to help fund property buyouts. The remainder is split between four grants:
To recap, out of $300 million in total HMGP funds the state of New Jersey had to hand out, just $75 million was available for municipalities like Hoboken, and the demand for this money was great. State officials say they received letters of intent from cities and towns asking for funding for mitigation projects totaling some $14 billion.
With the supply and the demand so out of whack, there were sure to be grumblings from some applicants who felt they were worthy but left out, or who weren’t awarded as much funding as they felt they were entitled to. “If you look at our recovery programs in totality,” said New Jersey’s “Storm Czar” Marc Ferzan on a recent call with reporters, “I’m scratching my head a little bit about any community that’s [claiming they’re] getting the short end of the stick other than to say that I understand we’ve got very limited resources at our disposal to date.”
But the initial findings of NJ Spotlight’s continuing investigation seem to suggest that there may be more to this story than simple dissatisfaction.
The HMGP Energy Allocation Initiative is just a small fraction of overall Sandy aid money, but it’s one of the few given directly by the state to local municipalities. In light of recent allegations from Hoboken, Fort Lee, and other places of the governor rewarding allies and punishing political enemies, it bears a close examination, whether or not that’s what actually happened here. NJ Spotlight has provided the administration with detailed questions, and they say they will respond again in the coming days.

Bridge - Gate 

Christie campaign among those granted temporary subpoena extension in bridge probe, lawyer says

Matt Friedman/The Star-LedgerBy Matt Friedman/The Star-Ledger 
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on February 03, 2014 at 12:04 PM, updated February 03, 2014 at 2:00 PM
TRENTON — Gov. Chris Chrisite’s campaign won’t be delivering its response today to subpoenas from the legislative panelinvestigating the George Washington Bridge scandal.
Mark Sheridan, an attorney who represents the Christie campaign, said it had been granted an extension from the joint legislative investigative committee while it awaits an opinion from the state Election Law Enforcement Commission on how it will pay the legal bills.
Other subpoena recipients have been grated extensions as well, the leaders of the panel said today.
The Christie campaign — which accepted millions of dollars in two-for-one matching funds from the state — has asked permission from the commission to raise more money to pay the legal bills.
The campaign has only $126,608 left after spending $12.1 million to get Christie re-elected, according to a letter to the commission last week from Sheridan. And only $12,905 of the that is permitted to be used for "reasonable fees and expenses of legal representation,” according to the letter.
Joe Donohue, deputy executive director of the commission, said an opinion still has to be drawn up and that the agency's commissioners will vote on whether to accept it. They'll meet on the matter on Feb. 11.
State Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex) and state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) — who lead the investigative panel — said in a joint statement they expect today "to begin receiving material responsive to its subpoenas, with more responses expected in the near future in a cooperative effort with subpoena recipients."
“Numerous extensions have been granted to subpoena recipients, as is typical in such situations," the lawmakers said. "No documents will be released today....The committee will announce its next step as soon as that course is decided."
Spokesmen for Wisniewski and Weinberg declined to say who had responded to the latest round of legislative subpoenas or name the recipients who had been granted extensions.
Michael Himmel, a lawyer for former Port Authority Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni, one of the 18 individual recipients, declined to comment.
Star-Ledger staff writers Susan K. Livio and Steve Strunsky contributed to this report.
EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this story had incorrect attribution for the investigative panel's statement. It's from Wisniewski and Weinberg, not the Assembly Democratic spokesman

NJ panel investigating Christie bridge scandal begins to receive subpoena responses

Brent Johnson/The Star-LedgerBy Brent Johnson/The Star-Ledger 
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on February 03, 2014 at 2:24 PM, updated February 03, 2014 at 2:36 PM
TRENTON — The leaders of the joint state legislative committee investigating the George Washington Bridge scandal said today they had begun receiving documents in response to the 20 subpoenas recently issued seeking answers in the case.
But the co-chairmen, state Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex) and state Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), said no documents would be released today. They said the panel was waiting for more responses, adding that many of those subpoenaed have asked for extensions. Wisniewski said last week the collecting of documents could take a long time.
"The committee will announce its next step as soon as that course is decided," Wisniewski and Weinberg said in a joint statement today.
Gov. Chris Christie's re-election campaignreceived one of the extensions and will not hand in documents today.
Tom Hester, a spokesman for the Assembly Democrats, and Richard McGrath, a spokesman for the Senate Democrats, both declined to say who had responded to the subpoenas today, who had requested extensions, or had been granted extensions.
The lawyer representing Bill Baroni, declined to say whether he had responded to the subpoena, or whether he had requested an extension or had been granted one.
"No comment," the lawyer, Michael Himmel, wrote in an email.
The panel is investigating what led to the unannounced lane closures at the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee last September — a move that caused traffic to snarl and back up for days days. Democrats have accused Christie's office of ordering the closings as political retribution because Fort Lee's Democratic mayor refused to endorse the governor for re-election.
Documents released earlier this month show Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie's former deputy chief of staff, sent an email to a Port Authority official, who later stepped down, in the weeks before the closings saying, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."
The governor fired Kelly and apologized for the matter, and has repeatedly said he did not personally know of the closings until after they were reported in the press.