Saturday, July 19, 2008

Pay to Play, continued

Sorry for the long delay. It's a hectic time of year.

Since my last blog, the City Council has taken up several agenda items related to "pay to play". First is approval of the list of administration recommended professional services vendors under the so-called "Fair and Open" option of the state pay to play law. I always refer to this as "so-called" because it is not what it says it is.

Professional services provided to government entities in New Jersey do not have to go out to bid. This is a gigantic lapse in government ethics that allows the exchange of campaign donations for lucrative legal, engineering, architectural and accounting/auditing contracts. Our state legislature has been under pressure to do something about it thanks to negative press and good government advocacy groups. The legislature came up with this "Fair and Open" process to mollify the public.

Under this option, Plainfield can advertise professional services opportunities in the most minimal way. If most vendors are unaware of the brief window in which we advertise, they are out of luck. And Plainfield doesn't even have to advertise in the Ledger or Courier-News. We use the city website, notorious for its inadequacy and infrequent usage. But we do seem to attract the interest of vendors who have already made donations to certain political campaign funds. Competition be damned. Adam Smith would be rolling over in his grave if he knew.

At Monday's Agenda Fixing meeting, I asked the Council to table this list of vendors so we could do more advertising. No takers.

The second Council item of business is a $1,000,000 engineering contract to Remington and Vernick. No typo, that is a million dollars. Not going out to bid. On Monday, I suggested a competitive bidding process. No takers. It would slow down road construction, it was said. That is a valid point. Another Councilman commented that we consider competitive bidding in the future. Here is why I am not happy with that response: I have brought this up before and heard this response. There hasn't been a real interest in follow-up from previous requests for action. So would that change going forward?

Why is it difficult for elected officials to confront pay to play directly. Two reasons. One is that high level officials and party leaders benefit from pay to play , leveraging large election war chests into real power. This is perfectly legal under current law. The party in power generally benefits more.

The other reason, more applicable in Plainfield, is that elected officials low on the totem pole like Plainfield City Council members, are under pressure from party leaders to keep the flow of pay to play contributions going. There could even be consequences for trying to close some of the loopholes in our current pay to play laws.

There is some good news. The Center for Civic Responsibility is holding education sessions for citizens who want to learn about citizen empowerment and good government. Google them to learn more about their campaign and the date of their next session in Plainfield. I think it is August 12 in the Public Library at 7 pm.

Next blog on pay to play: solutions.


Anonymous said...

My concern about the citizen education group is that the Civic Responsibility Act that they fostered has yet to be fully implemented and yet here they come again, ready to preach empowerment. Why not help the citizens and the city complete the first campaign before launching another one?

olddoc said...

How about a motion to table? You do not to give reason but could suggest more information on the any advertising process. . According to Sturgis (the Parliamentary rules that I have used)the correct phrase is "move that the motion be postponed temporarily". It requires a second and is not debatable. Even if you could get a second,it wouldn't pass of course but you will make your point.

Anonymous said...

I think I will start my own P.A.C here in Plainfield. . . .level the playing field. . . .anyone want to join me?
J. Spear