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SPECIAL REPORT: Township Didn't Follow Law in Awarding Contracts to Energy Consultant

Gloucester Township didn’t include the required spending cap with the contracts awarded to Blue Sky Power LLC and other professionals, making the agreements open-ended.

The township failed to comply with the state’s Local Public Contracts Law in awarding three lucrative agreements to a politically connected energy consulting firm, an investigation by Gloucester Township Patch has found.

This means that the contracts have essentially been open-ended, with no limit on the total amount the firm, Blue Sky Power LLC, can charge the township for its work.

Municipalities are required by state law to prepare documents known as certifications of funds when entering into contracts with private vendors. The certifications must indicate how much money is available for the contract within the local budget. Those figures serve as a cap, according to Lisa Ryan, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Community Affairs (DCA), and can only be exceeded by resolutions approved by towns' governing bodies.

The DCA’s Division of Local Government Services oversees municipal governments in New Jersey.

While the township does prepare certifications of available funds for its professional-services agreements, they do not include a not-to-exceed amount, or cap, in the certification documents prepared for those contracts, Business Administrator Tom Cardis said during a recent interview.

"To my knowledge, we have not established a cap on any of these," he said. 

In Blue Sky's case, the Camden-based company has been awarded annual consulting contracts in 2010, 2011 and 2012. 

Blue Sky Power’s CEO, Benjamin S. Parvey II, did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

A municipal-government spending expert said the township could be overextending itself by failing to include a cap on professional-services agreements.

The purpose of a certification of funds “is that the money for that contract is set aside so it can’t be used for something else,” said Fran Shames, executive director of the Governmental Purchasing Association of New Jersey. “If there’s no amount in it, what do they set aside?”

Township officials would be hard-pressed to determine prior to the annual Jan. 2 reorganization meetings, when professional services contracts are awarded, just how much work its energy consultant, engineers or attorneys will be doing over the course of the year, Cardis said.

"For example, all of the engineers—I don't have a capital program put together yet. I'm still working on that (when contracts are awarded)," he said. "How could you possibly know in advance?"

Also, the amount of work performed by vendors is often determined by outside forces, such as mid-budget year grant awards that allow towns to do more than they may have expected as the spending plan was prepared.

The business administrator indicated he could have the township's chief financial officer, Christie Ehret, attach an arbitrary figure to each certification of available funds, but questioned the value in doing so, especially when there are other checks and balances built into the process—specifically, the annual budget approved by Council, he said.

Cardis noted, for example, that Gloucester Township's 2012 budget includes $35,000 for labor counsel. In order to exceed the $35,000 in that line item for labor attorneys, Council would have to approve a resolution to shift money to cover the unanticipated expenses.

"If that doesn't meet the DCA's approval, then, you know, we'll have to try to see if we can do something to establish a cap," Cardis said. "Again, on certain appropriations, I don't know how you would do that. ...I'd be curious to know how many municipalities do a certificate of availability of funds with a cap for all of their professional services. I would say you're going to find that very few of them are doing it."

Shames, the executive director of the governmental purchasing group, disagreed with Cardis’ assertion that most municipalities don’t include caps with certifications of funds.

“It wouldn’t be valid in my book,” she said of his argument. “That’s not true, to my knowledge.”

An issue for the auditor

A previous Gloucester Township Patch investigation found that the township paid a total of nearly $450,000 to Blue Sky Power between early 2010 and the end of 2011 for energy consulting work, including the creation of an energy master plan—a blueprint for future improvements—for the township.  Several of the bills the company submitted to the township lacked enough detail to determine exactly what work the company performed, yet the Democrat-controlled administration paid them anyway. Blue Sky has contributed heavily to local Democratic campaigns over the past two years, according to campaign-finance reports.

Parvey, an attorney, has served as president of the Haddonfield Democratic Club and is co-chairman of the borough’s Democratic Municipal Committee.

In an earlier interview, Mayor David Mayer, a Democrat and former state Assemblyman, defended Blue Sky’s appointment, saying his administration wanted to focus on “renewable energy and saving taxpayers money.”

Mayer and Cardis said previously that they stay on top of Blue Sky's work for the township through regular meetings and phone calls with Parvey and other company staff.

After Patch published its investigation in March, Council Vice President Orlando Mercado Cardis during a public meeting to require that all vendors doing business with township submit detailed invoices.

Asked if the DCA is looking into the issues surrounding Blue Sky’s contracts, Ryan, the agency’s spokeswoman, responded vial email: “Our division of Local Government Services is not investigating the situation in Gloucester Township. Municipalities undergo annual audits of accounting records and transactions. And audit findings are the subject of corrective action plans so they do not happen again. With that said, if the Division were to receive a complaint, it may review the matter if time and resources allow.”

N/A May 21, 2012 at 10:59 AM
What is Irony? How about Writing a 23 paragraph “so called” news article about "so called" illegal activity. Using a title saying there was illegal activity. Only to find out that a one line sentence in paragraph 23 of the same article lists a quote from the department of government affairs that oversees the alleged allegations as saying, “Our division of Local Government Services is not investigating the situation in Gloucester Township.” So I guess Patch can use this for another example of why the editor can't get an interview with a township official if it paid for one. How Ironic is it that people turn to the news to educate them on what is going on. Patch the online “self proclaimed” newspaper for Gloucester Township instead of bringing the news has decided to recreate what news is and bring controversy in the form of its own self admitted lies to our municipality. AOL, Huffington Post and Patch should all be embarrassed by the conduct of this editor and, ill use the term extremely loosely, “Reporter.”
Big Daddy 1 May 21, 2012 at 12:16 PM
Perhaps N/A hasn't been a victim of white collar or government crimes. We have all these agencies that are supposed to do something to enforce our laws, but they rarely do anything. They are just a bunch of government slugs that take up space and take in bribes. That goes for many of our judges as well. We need more exposes from patch and other media. That's the only time our law enforcers ever do anything about government crime.
Michael May 21, 2012 at 12:18 PM
What is ironic is that the Township Solicitor, Dave Carlemere, is so up on the law when it comes to petitions to include a pay to play referendum on the ballot, but he is unaware of the basic necessities of complying with DCA procedures. Perhaps he's incompetent, but more likey he (and the rest of our governing body) are aware of the DCA requirements and just chose to ignore them. Afterall, how would they be able to pay back the political donors and cronies if they followed the rules?
Publius May 21, 2012 at 12:41 PM
Perhaps N/A is an employee of Blue Sky, the municipality or the thug machine and is doing exaclly as ordered; confuse, confound and corrupt the truth.
D. H. May 21, 2012 at 02:01 PM
Our politicians always follow their rules. It's called "The let's see how deep we can line our own pockets rule." Of course we taxpayers get screwed once again!
sc May 21, 2012 at 03:08 PM
why don't you people sue those, the party and governing body who allowed this and remove them? Why don't you show the entire country that actions like theirs is grounds for dismissal and this blatant illegal maneuvers are over and cancel those contracts immediately. Why don't you stand up for your rights and show the NATION we are through with these thieves and their padding the pockets of their big money supporters and themselves. WHY DON'T CALL ON REP. ANDREWS TO FINALLY DO SOMETHING FOR THE PEOPLE INSTEAD OF WATCHING ALL THIS HAPPENING APPEARING ON THE SIDELINES? WHY DOESN'T SOMEONE CHALLENGE ANDREWS GET HIM OUT AND DO SOMETHING FOR THE PEOPLE INSTEAD OF MORE POLICE JOBS-NEW FIRE TRUCKS ETC.
Roger Delgado May 21, 2012 at 03:12 PM
Didn't Council accept a glowing financial audit at the last meeting? How could this not be in it? This is now the second thing Patch uncovered that our auditors missed. What else have they missed!! If I remember a few months ago someone pointed out our auditors are the third largest donors to the campaigns. Is this true? If so, now I am starting to understand the impacts of Pay to Play. Substandard service by people who won the contracts because of their donation. My god I never thought this really happened or that my own party really did this. Please let me know where I can sign the petition. You convinced me.
sc May 21, 2012 at 03:14 PM
and this is always happening right before your eyes. Doesn't anybody have guts enough to form a committee to stop it and remove it? CORRUPT GOVERNMENT NEEDS TO STOP. TAKE THESE DISHONEST POLITICIANS / GOVERNING BODIES AND REMOVE THE GREEDY NO GOODS. GLOUCESTER TOWNSHIP WHAT DISGRACE.
Joshua Berry May 21, 2012 at 04:16 PM
@sc: We did form a committee and have been active in trying to find and correct many problems like this. We are currently litigating over the towns attempt to block pay to play reforms. For more information, please email info@southjerseycitizens.org. We welcome anyone of any political belief or background interested in good government. @Mel: As distasteful as the personal comments and insults from some of the posters are here, please don't refer to them as "creepy". Let's not sink to their level.
Darren Gladden May 21, 2012 at 04:58 PM
I wonder if Stocklin and GT own council VP Poster boy Orlando Mercado is eating crow for Breakfest today ........Just care , I do http://youtu.be/iJgxJ6JrPkc
Donald R. Choyce May 21, 2012 at 07:29 PM
The Mayor & Council, in effect, gave Blue Sky a blank check-at the taxpayers expense. Surprise! Surprise! What's so tragic is the fact the local governing body has been in power for so long,they have become delusional and honestly believe nothing is wrong. Spin a lie long enough and it becomes the truth. Yes, Roger, it really is that bad. Pay to Play needs to go... now! It's legalized graft and influence peddling- pure and simple.
Darren Gladden May 21, 2012 at 07:53 PM
stockton sorry mis spelling
Rock Bottom May 22, 2012 at 03:50 AM
This is what "Back Door" dealing is all about... just push things thru and hope it does'nt rear it's head to the public... Blackwood Kiwanis... your on deck!!
Paul J. DiBartolo May 23, 2012 at 02:06 PM
I love it; rather than address the issue count paragraphs instead. How many words were in the article, N/A? Wouldn't that be grounds for outright rejection of the facts? Go back and ask your overlords what to write next.

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