Spotlight Investigation Confirms Our Claims – Finds Christie Administration’s Sandy Energy Grants “Riddled With Errors”
Another Flawed and Politicized Grant Program
Vague grant award criteria and murky review process invite political manipulation
Allocation of Federal Sandy Energy Funds Totally Under The Control of Gov. Christie
“The Governor’s scoring spreadsheet looks more like a game of bureaucratic bingo than a rational, need-based selection process,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, noting the abrupt termination of the state’s main contractor and the growing uncertainty over distribution of Sandy money. “Many of these requests were virtually identical, yet a few were accepted while many others rejected. No wonder our mayors are confused and suspicious.” ~~~ PEER Press Release, Feb. 3, 2014
A little over a month since we broke the story and released the data and scoring methodology, see: JERSEY SANDY ENERGY GRANT AWARDS RAISE MORE QUESTIONS - Hazard Mitigation Funding Criteria Ignores Municipal Need and Hazard Severity, NJ Spotlight’s Scott Gurian today writes on how the Christie Administration chose to distribute $25 million in Hazard Mitigation Grant funds, see:
- INVESTIGATION REVEALS SANDY ENERGY GRANT PROGRAM RIDDLED WITH ERRORS – Hoboken, state’s largest cities appear to have been shortchanged aid money
Listen to the WNYC version:
In a lengthy piece that Gurian obviously did a lot of work on – thankfully he gave us credit as the source of the documents [but really doesn't quite admit that we broke and gave him the complete story] - to his credit, Gurian got down into the weeds and confirmed our general and specific findings.
The process used to allocate funds, however, provides a window on the Christie administration’s handling of Sandy recovery money. Questions about the integrity of the scoring data appear to extend beyond a few errant numbers to structural issues concerning the methodologies used in the ranking process.
The problems run much deeper than just Hoboken. Many errors were discovered after only a cursory review of the data, and their occurrence is too varied and numerous to easily overlook.
A review of the initial scoring highlights many municipalities receiving unequal treatment, and anomalies such as Nutley — which had comparatively little damage from Sandy or past storms — getting a significant mitigation grant of $556,240, while places like Atlantic City and Belmar weren’t awarded any funding at all.
To be clear, the $25 million Hazard Mitigation Grant Program Energy Allocation Initiative — the focus of this investigation — is only a small fraction of the overall Sandy aid money, but it’s one of the few grants given directly to local municipalities. And it’s also one of the few over which the Christie administration has complete control.
Just as we noted, the methodology and allocation of money did not reflect need and risk (or vulnerability).
Highly vulnerable cities and towns that suffered great damage got screwed, while others with little risk or damage were granted hundreds of thousands of dollars.
So, one of the Sandy programs the Christie Administration actually fully controls, they totally fucked up.
No wonder the Governor is trying to blame the federal government for the chaos and corruption now being exposed by media.
Saving the best for last, Gurian presents a critically important part of the story at the very end. Makes sure you get there!
This part of the story also is based upon documents and sources we provided.
In addition to the spreadsheets and scoring methodology, we gave WNYC reporters internal memos and emails between Gov. Christie’s Sandy Cazar Mark Furzan and BPU, DEP, and the private group Sustainable NJ.
Those documents provided detailed evidence that the Gov.’s Office of Inter-Governmental Affairs (that’s the outfit run by Bridget Kelly, who was fired by Christie for her role in the Bridgegate scandal) was involved in the grant program.
Kelly’s Office was coordinating a political effort – beginning on October 8, less than a month before the election – to notify towns that received grants (press releases followed, so we assume that they were part of the Kelly campaign).
Additional evidence we provided to WNYC suggested that Christie loyalist, Senator O’Toole, must have gotten a confidential heads up from the Governor’s Office because he was in the know and issued a press release on October 9.
Assembly Republicans didn’t issue their press release until weeks later.
And it appears that Democrats were carved out – suggesting not only that the Gov. was using federal grant money for his own political electoral interests, but that there were larger partisan advantages too.
As we wrote:
Documents show that:
- the Gov.’s Office called towns that received grants early in October 2013, less than a month before the election
- efforts were made to restrict “bad news”, i.e. information from towns that did not receive grants and the public until after the election
- a private non-profit corporate funded group was used for “outreach” to the towns regarding the grants program
- the allocation of funds was not based on need and did not follow any rational plan or transparent planning process
Gurian implies some of this in a round about and diplomatic quote from former DEP Commissioner Mark Mauriello:
“Whenever you see these things, you don’t know the subjectivity of who’s populating these columns and these boxes,” he said, “And obviously, the more of these columns you have, the more opportunities you have to check off a box and add weight or points to a certain proposal. It just seems to me that this thing by nature creates a lot of opportunity to really make funding decisions that might not be in the best interest of the state.”
In other words, political decisions.
The kind Governor Christie is now notorious for.
This about sums things up:
A spokesman for the city of Hoboken released a statement in response to NJ Spotlight’s findings. “This investigation adds to the growing body of evidence that the Christie Administration’s process of distributing Sandy funds has been flawed, politicized, and subject to abuse,” it said.