Critics: Township Needs Tighter Rules for Paying Bills
Open-government advocates say the administration shouldn't approve payments to vendors who don't submit itemized bills.
Amid revelations that the township paid nearly $450,000 to a politically connected energy consultant over the past two years without always requiring the company to submit itemized bills, open-government advocates – and even a local councilman – say the township's bill-paying process needs more transparency.
"Without fully itemized bills, how do we know what they really did to give us the output?" asked Joshua Berry, political director for South Jersey Citizens, a local political watchdog group that's pushing for pay-to-play reform in the township.
Pay to play is the process through which campaign contributors are awarded no-bid, professional contracts.
In an investigative report last week, Gloucester Township Patch revealed how the company, Blue Sky Power LLC of Camden, has been awarded no-bid contracts by the township over the past three years while contributing to local Democratic campaigns. The report also revealed that the township paid several bills submitted by Blue Sky, the township's energy consultant, even though in some instances the company did not provide detailed invoices to the township explaining what work it performed.
Township Business Administrator Tom Cardis said previously that he was aware of the work the company was performing because he and Mayor David Mayer had regular meetings and phone conversations with Blue Sky executives.
But, during a township council meeting this past Monday, Council Vice-President Orlando Mercado, a Democrat, called on Cardis to be more vigilant in requiring details from everyone who does business with the township.
Referring to Blue Sky, Mercado said: "If someone else picked up that invoice, they wouldn't know what you know and what work was being done and performed. So, going forward, if it's possible, if you could, request from all of our vendors (that they provide) more detailed invoices."
Cardis said during the meeting that Blue Sky's bills contained more itemization as its business relationship with the township, which began in early 2010, progressed.
But, he acknowledged, "it could be more detailed."
Mayor David Mayer, a Democrat and a former state assemblyman, did not respond to a request for comment following the council meeting this week.
Mayer previously defended the arrangement with Blue Sky, saying the company will ultimately help the township save millions of dollars through reduced energy costs over the next several years.
John Paff, chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party’s Open Government Advocacy Project, said towns should not pay bills from professionals that aren't fully itemized.
"How can the town council judge whether they're getting their money's worth without knowing what the vendor did for that particular service?" he asked.
"We all require that in our personal lives," he said, citing the examples of hiring a plumber or an auto mechanic.
"I can't see how any town could get itself into a contract and have somebody signing off on bills when they're absolutely no justification for the bill," Paff said. "There has to be some accountability here. There has to be a standard."