Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Deception in the Seat of Power

The Truth Be Told--Eventually

"If you once forfeit the confidence of your fellow citizens, you can never regain their respect and esteem. You may fool all of the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all the time; but you can't fool all of the people all of the time. "
-- Abraham Lincoln

A wise man’s words apply powerfully in South Brunswick in regard to the selection of the engineering firm hired to do the flooding study in the Pigeon Swamp State Park.

On May 9, the Township posted a Request For Qualifications for the Provision of a Stormwater Study in the Area of the Pigeon Swamp State Park on the Township website. This invited environmental engineering firms to submit a summary of their expertise and services in hope of being hired to do the study. Four firms replied by the May 19 deadline.

On June 5, the Township reposted the Request as a Request for Proposals with a new deadline of June 15. At that time, Mayor Gambatese told the Davidson Mill Road Task Force that Jim Johnston’s firm, PMK, had decided to apply and the Township had extended the deadline. PMK and one other firm applied, bringing the total of applicants to six.

No word of any decision was given. I had asked about the process several times during public meetings and was repeatedly assured the process would examine all the applications and make the selection based upon qualifications in a fair and unbiased manner.

On June 27, the Township Council agenda listed that the contract was to be awarded to do the flooding study. At that time, when I discovered PMK had been selected, I asked the Council how the decision had been made.

Mayor Gambatese deferred to Township Manager Matt Watkins. Mr. Watkins asserted that six firms had applied under the RFP, but only two had followed up with a financial proposal as needed. He also claimed he had sent letters to all six firms informing them that proposals were required. I questioned this and, for a second time, he asserted that all six firms had been sent letters from the Township requesting financial proposals for the project. Since only PMK and T&M had replied, they were the only two firms left in the process. T&M had a conflict as they had been a consulting firm for the CNJ warehouse, so that left PMK as the only choice.

During the weeks following, I made some disturbing discoveries. I contacted three of the applying firms. No one had ever received a letter from South Brunswick. One had called the Township several times to determine the status of its application and had been simply referred back to the website. In essence, they were “in the dark” about what had happened to their applications.

I then filed an Open Public Records Act request in the Township, trying to get a copy of the letter Mr. Watkins had sent according to his public statements. There was no letter filed in the Township. Mr. Watkins had never sent letters to the interested firms.

In the July 26th meeting of the Davidson Mill Road Task Force, representatives of PMK attended. During the course of discussion, the New Jersey Turnpike’s involvement in the flooding was brought up, and one of the PMK engineers expressed some concern. PMK was a consulting engineering firm for the Turnpike and he suggested there might be a possible conflict. Mr. Johnston dismissed his concern, but I was not so comfortable with the conflict. It is extremely important that this critical environmental issue have a completely unbiased study.

When I further confirmed PMK’s affiliation with the Turnpike, I knew it was time to bring this up to the Council.

On Tuesday, August 22, I posed the questions to the Council. Specifically, I asked about the letters Mr. Watkins had claimed to send. He explained he had “misspoken” at the June meeting and had not sent any letters. He apologized for “misspeaking.” Deputy Mayor Barrett who was presiding at the meeting asked me what more I wanted now that Mr. Watkins had apologized.

While the Council seemed somewhat concerned about a possible conflict with PMK and the Turnpike, there was not much discussion about the problem. Council members promised to “look into it.”

Mr. Watkins’s “misspeaking” was simply “lying.” Supposedly he had told the Council prior to the June meeting that he had sent letters giving every applying firm a fair and equal chance to win the contract. Then he claimed no less than two times in the public meeting that he had sent letters when in truth he had not. His actions had “stacked the deck” for PMK who had already been given an inside track with the Mayor’s extension of the original application deadline.

I can only surmise that PMK had also been given the inside track by being told to submit a financial proposal.

I know that at least one highly qualified firm was never given the opportunity to complete its application. Despite appearances, what was supposed to be a transparent, open, fair and honest application process, was a dishonest, orchestrated sham.

If the Township wanted to award the contract to PMK, it could have done so without wasting the time, manpower, and efforts of other legitimate firms who wanted to work for South Brunswick. Lies and deceit took the place of honesty.

I am frankly both disappointed and insulted by the charade. I guess the presumption was that the public was too ignorant to see through the deception. Abraham Lincoln’s words will come back to haunt our present government. One forfeit of the public confidence is more than enough. How can we ever be sure the decisions they make from now on are honest and true?


At 7:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In regards to Jean's comments on the "deception", a very kind and cultured way to say LYING, I am once again appalled @ the self-serving attitude of our politicians. Since an apology, as I have taught my children, must be backed up with a committment NEVER to do it again and a promise to change one's behavior, I question the council's sincerity!

At 8:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Make no mistake, Matt Watkins makes no move, either in public or in the performance of his duties, which have not been directed, approved and choreographed by the majority of the members of the Council.

If PMK was awarded this contract, this was done because the Council wished it done - publicly or privately.

If Watkins lied, there is no excuse. But make certain to place the blame where it truly belongs: the Council which tells him when to dance, how high to jump and how long to hang. To believe otherwise is simply naive.

At 10:46 AM, Blogger sfritz said...

Shame on them all! AND stop making excuses for an individual with no backbone nor moral fortitude to stand up for what is just plain right!! Mr. Watkins, is not a puppet and he presumably knows truth from lies; how stupid in this day and age to think that the public will find out truths with the supreme knowledge and perserveranceof wonderful, bright people like Ms. Dvorak
Susan Fritz


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