Republicans ripped Democratic lawmakers Friday and Saturday for calling "witch-hunt" hearings reviewing a contract that could pay a politically connected company to clean up after Hurricane Sandy.
Those paid by AshBritt include George Gilmore, the Republican chairman of Ocean County; Maggie Moran, a former top aide to Gov. Jon Corzine whose husband is the mayor of Belmar; and Kris Kolluri, a New Jersey lobbyist and former head of the state Department of Transportation under Corzine, according to the newspaper.
Assemblyman John Amodeo, R-Atlantic, a member of the Assembly Regulatory Oversight and Gaming Committee, issued the following statement on the cleanup from Superstorm Sandy:
“Superstorm Sandy was immense and created an unprecedented challenge for our state, including how to remove incredible amounts of debris. Governor Christie showed leadership, acted decisively and responsibly to provide local communities an option to start their clean up immediately and put people’s lives back together as quickly as possible.
“AshBritt’s performance has been remarkable and it should not be lost that they efforts provided jobs to New Jersey contractors.
Gilmore confirmed to the newspaper that he was hired by AshBritt, but declined to say whether he has a conflict of interest because of his role as attorney for towns, such as Seaside Heights and Jackson, that hired the company.
Gilmore's firm also represents Brick Township and Berkeley Township, which hired AshBritt.
Ocean County officials said the hiring of the Florida-based firm for debris removal was legal and necessary for a quick response in the weeks after Hurricane Sandy.
Responding to comments from Gary Black of Jackson, who claimed an article in the Star-Ledger of Newark criticized Ocean County's involvement with AshBritt, a debris removal firm hired by the state, the Ocean County Board of Freeholders said the county was piggybacking on the state's contract.
The exchange took place at a Jan. 16 meeting of the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders.
"Under state law, counties may use contracts the state has in place," Freeholder Gerry P. Little said in response to Black's comments.
That Ledger article, accessible here, suggested the company and the state exploited political ties and distress over the storm to gain municipal clients. Ocean County was only briefly mentioned as one of its clients.
In an email entitled "AshBritt Had Extensive Experience And Unique Capabilities To Respond To Major Disasters," Gov. Chris Christie's office responded Tuesday that AshBritt is a "national, rapid-response natural disaster recovery company well tested in marshaling extensive resources quickly to remove massive amounts of debris from communities that have been impacted by natural disaster."
"AshBritt is currently overseeing and coordinating 83 subcontractors in New Jersey for cleanup work – 71 percent (59) of which are all New Jersey companies," the email said.
More information can be found in these two Star-Ledger articles:
Belmar Mayor Matt Doherty's wife, Maggie Moran, has ties to the company that the borough contracted to clean-up after Hurricane Sandy.
The company, AshBritt, has dozens of contracts throughout the state to haul debris from the devastating storm, and Belmar is one of them. The borough most recently decided to approve $2.6 million to AshBritt's contract for Belmar's garbage and debris removal.
However, when previously questioned on the reasons behind his abstentions from voting on agenda items, Doherty responded at council meetings that his wife works in public affairs, not lobbying, and clarified the work Moran does for M. Public Affairs, a company she created.
When questioned by a resident at the Jan. 16 council meeting whether Moran has ties through her firm and Conti, the company hired by AshBritt to market its potential contracts, Doherty said yes Moran does work with Conti but has no ties directly working for the borough of Belmar. He has recused himself from voting in the past.