After rejecting a $742,000 contract to a firm that backed mayor Andre Sayegh by giving to a Hudson County political action committee (PAC), the City Council earlier in the month awarded a reduced $500,000 consulting contract to Hoboken-based NW Financial Group.
NW Financial Group will provide “technical assistance to the city with sub-recipient management, compliance. and reporting for programs and services funded through coronavirus state and local fiscal recovery funds,” according to city records.
Sayegh’s team will use NW Financial Group to ensure compliance and reporting for the $64 million it has received through the American Rescue Act, officials said.
Members of the City Council had rejected the larger contract in mid-October citing the firm’s ties to the mayor. Dennis J. Enright, a founding member of NW Financial, gave $1,000 to Progressive Values Committee, a Hudson County Political Action Committee (PAC), in April 2018. He also gave $2,000 to assemblyman Benjie Wimberly’s campaign on Oct. 4, 2018. More recently, he gave $2,400 to assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter’s campaign in 2019.
The PAC spent $138,000 to help Sayegh get elected mayor in 2018.
“What concerns me is that they are insisting on making sure that this company that is tied to the mayor gets a half a million dollar contract. I’m not willing to support this, ” said councilman Alex Mendez. “I see this as pay back.”
Mendez wanted the city to solicit new proposals, but the Sayegh administration opted to reduce the price of the contract.
Council members openly questioned the legality of reducing the value of the contract without seeking new proposals.
“Who did they make the deal with to go to $500,000 without going through the RFP process again?” remarked councilman Luis Velez. “Can somebody give me a logical explanation on that?”
Business administrator Kathleen Long said the city did not have conversations with either of the two firms that submitted proposals.
“We actually calculated the amount and we put together estimates,” said Long. She said NW Financial Group did not submit a contract amount, but submitted rates for the various services it offers, allowing her team to come up with the number of hours the city needed for various compliance and reporting purposes.
But the other firm that submitted a proposal had a total contract amount.
Velez suggested that would mean the city’s rating system for the proposals was unfair.
“What did you base your points on?” said Velez
“Our points are based on what they are providing,” replied Long.
Long said the city followed a “proper process.”
Still, some council members wanted to make sure the process was legal.
“I want it in writing that nothing was done wrong,” said councilwoman Ruby Cotton, an ally of the mayor’s, before the vote.
Councilwoman Lilisa Mimms also wanted a note in writing that “no unethical practices were being done.”
Council members were provided a statement from law director Aymen Aboushi.
“I have documentation here that says it’s legal to change the amount,” said council president Maritza Davila holding up a paper.
Councilman Flavio Rivera said he is comfortable awarding the contract because the law director, purchasing agent, and finance director provided reassurance everything was done properly.
The contract was awarded in a 6-2 vote.
Al Abdelaziz, Cotton, Rivera, Velez, Mimms, and Davila voted in favor while Mendez and Michael Jackson voted against. Shahin Khalique was not present during the vote.