Mayor Andre Sayegh’s administration is attempting to award a $60,000 contract to Millennium Strategies of Morristown, a company owned by Ed Farmer, one of the mayor’s longtime political allies, to submit paperwork to the federal government to secure disaster recovery funding related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Sayegh administration officials faced questions from City Council members on Tuesday night. Council president Maritza Davila and councilman Flavio Rivera pushed back against the administration rushing to award the contract.
“I did not like the process. I did not like the lateness of it,” said Davila. She blocked the measure from getting on the agenda.
Rivera asked whether the city has in-house staff to apply for these disaster recovery dollars. He was told the city did not.
“The administration made us aware that they are not able to handle this function,” said Rivera.
Councilman Michael Jackson pointed to Sayegh’s close connection with the company. Farmer played a key role in getting Sayegh elected in 2018. He worked on Sayegh’s campaign and ran a $1,000 per plate fundraiser for the mayor.
Farmer is also on the board of Sayegh’s controversial One Paterson group.
Fire chief Brian McDermott said the city received proposals from five companies. He said a committee, made up of himself and two other fire officials, reviewed the proposals and scored them. He said Millennium Strategies received the highest score.
“At no point were we coerced into selecting any bidder,” said McDermott to skeptical council members.
McDermott said the firm will help the city to “maximize” reimbursements for money it is spending on responding to the pandemic.
“We need a report. How much have we spent to at least have an idea what we can expect back. Are they going to reimburse 100%?” asked councilman Luis Velez.
Business administrator Kathleen Long said the city has spent approximately $1 million in its Covid-19 response. She said $700,000 has been spent on overtime and $300,000 on personal protective equipment. McDermott said the $300,000 includes expenditures for such things as fogging, disinfecting, and other expenses.
Long said the firm will not only submit applications for disaster recovery funding, but actively advise the administration on eligible expenses that are reimbursable via federal, state, and county funds available because of the pandemic.
Several council members wanted documentations from the administration.
“This is very time sensitive,” said McDermott.
“What we’ve heard is that there are some peculiar things and specialized skill that could help us in this process. We have a large amount of money that’s at stake,” said councilman William McKoy.
McKoy said the consulting firm, with experience in applying for federal funds, will be able to properly document expenses to submit for reimbursement. He said forcing the administration to find someone in-house to handle the application process without the skillset will lead to a “greater loss.”
Millennium Strategies currently handles grant writing for the city. It was hired by the Paterson Parking Authority to render the service to the municipal government. After Sayegh came into office, Millennium Strategies contract increased from $4,000 to $7,000 per month.
Council members approved the contract in a 6-0 vote on May 14. Al Abdelaziz, Michael Jackson, McKoy, Lilisa Mimms, Rivera, Davila voted in favor. Velez abstained. Ruby Cotton and Shahin Khalique were not present during the vote.
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Updated with approval and votes on May 18, 2020.