(TRENTON) — Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver on Monday announced the first in a series of joint legislative hearings to examine the preparedness of the state to respond to Hurricane Sandy and the actions taken in the aftermath of the storm, including the hiring of the Florida-based debris-removal company AshBritt.
The hearings will be conducted jointly by the oversight committees in the Senate and the Assembly and be co-chaired by Senator Bob Gordon and Assemblyman Ruben J. Ramos, Jr., who lead the committees in their respective houses. The focus of the hearings will be to determine how the state performed following the storm and to address shortcomings in the state’s emergency preparedness and response system exposed in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
The first joint hearing of the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee and the Assembly Regulatory Oversight and Gaming Committee will be held at the Statehouse on Friday, March 8 at 1 p.m.
“Questions about how and why AshBritt is doing business in New Jersey continue to remain unanswered,” said Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland). “Taxpayers have a right to know why a company that is charging, in some cases, nearly twice as much as other companies, is working in the state. They are also entitled to know why, despite several storms over the past few years, an emergency plan was not already in place for the kind of work AshBritt is currently doing. We believe this committee can find the answers to all these questions.”
“Legitimate questions have been raised about the process under which AshBritt received its contract, and whether the way it was handled was in the best interest of New Jersey taxpayers,” said Oliver (D-Essex/Passaic). “No one questions the need for a timely and ongoing clean up and response to Sandy, but it must be done in a way that ensures taxpayer money is used as judiciously as possible. The questions about the contracting and the use of taxpayer money demand additional oversight, and public discussion is always the best approach to getting the taxpayers the answers they need and want. I look forward to everyone working together to fix any mistakes that were made so we move forward as wisely as possible.”
“Recent media reports have highlighted the lack of preparedness on the part of the state to respond in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and a contract award process that circumvented the state’s normal bidding procedures,” said Senator Gordon (D-Bergen/Passaic), chairman of the Senate Legislative Oversight Committee. “These hearings will tackle questions regarding the expedited emergency contracting related to the Sandy response and recovery, and allow us to evaluate whether the contract awarded to AshBritt and the contractors retained were selected based on merit and represent the most efficient use of taxpayer dollars. They will also allow us to examine and evaluate how the state performed in an emergency situation, hopefully yielding lessons that will help us achieve a more efficient and transparent response to future crises. Finally, I am hopeful that this hearing will serve as a catalyst to improve our state’s ability to prepare for, respond to, and recover from large-scale emergency events.”
“Communities and taxpayers devastated by Sandy want careful oversight of how this money is being spent, and in this case serious concerns have been repeatedly raised about whether this key funding was spent in the most efficient way possible,” said Ramos Jr., chairman of the Assembly Regulatory Oversight and Gaming Committee. “If mistakes have been made, we need to know what they were and how they can be corrected. This is just the start of a major process to rebuild our state, and we need to ensure it’s done the right way. I hope this will prove to be a careful and coordinated bipartisan effort to protect our taxpayers.”