Local Connections to Belmar's Use of AshBritt Questioned
Mayor's wife working with Conti firm who marketed AshBritt for Hurricane Sandy contracts
Belmar Mayor Matt Doherty's wife, Maggie Moran, has ties to the company that the borough contracted to clean-up after Hurricane Sandy, according to a Star-Ledger article.
The company, AshBritt, has dozens of contracts throughout the state to haul debris from the devastating storm, and Belmar is one of them. The borough will also decide at its Wednesday meeting whether to approve $2.6 million to AshBritt's contract for Belmar's garbage and debris removal.
According to the proposed agenda, the council will decide a contract for the purpose of Garbage and Debris Removal from an authorized vendor under the State of New Jersey Cooperative Purchasing Program I-NJCP.
The widespread use of AshBritt and the political ties of those recently connected to the Florida company came under scrutiny in the Star-Ledger article, here.
The Star-Ledger reported Moran, who is a "former top aide to Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine," helped manage a marketing campaign for AshBritt as it prepared to enter contracts for Hurricane Sandy debris removal.
However, when previously questioned on the reasons behind his abstentions from voting on agenda items, Doherty responded at council meetings that his wife works in public affairs, not lobbying, and clarified the work Moran does for M. Public Affairs, a company she created.
When questioned by a resident at the Jan. 16 council meeting whether Moran has ties through her firm and Conti, the company hired by AshBritt to market its potential contracts, Doherty said yes Moran does work with Conti but has no ties directly working for the borough of Belmar. He has recused himself from voting in the past.
Colleen Connolly, the current business administrator for Belmar, also has ties to Moran, who she worked with previously with at the state level, said the resident, Bill Strauss, who questioned whether there was "an appearance of impropriety" with the connections between the firms and the borough.
The Star-Ledger investigation found: "Moran developed an elaborate campaign-like strategy to market AshBritt to local mayors, according to numerous interviews with officials across the state. She helped deploy salespeople to the hardest-hit areas and used her extensive political network to set up meetings between company brass and local decision-makers, they said."
In an early November letter to its member municipalities' mayors, the executive director of the New Jersey League of Municipalities said AshBritt is partnering with the New Jersey-based Conti Group "to expedite relief to New Jersey communities at this critical time." The field office of Conti listed in the letter is 1700 Main Street, Lake Como, which is also the address of M. Public Affairs, Moran's firm. The letter states the field office would be open at that address from Nov. 7 to Nov. 14.
The letter goes on to say use of AshBritt and Conti "will also ensure local contractors and New Jersey workers will be included in these efforts. However, if you have already hired your own local contract, they can be incorporated into an agreement with AshBritt."
The League of Municipalities' letter lists Moran as a main contact for "AshBrittConti:" "The AshBrittConti team is assessing damage throughout the state now and working to connect with all governmental leads. To schedule a meeting today with the AshBrittConti team, please contact Maggie Moran."
In addition to the alleged ties to Moran, AshBritt's ties to Ocean County Republican Chairman George Gilmore and Kris Kolluri, a New Jersey lobbyist, were also investigated by the newspaper.
In a news release today, the Office of the Governor responded to criticism of AshBritt's political ties by saying the company "is a national, rapid-response natural disaster recovery company well tested in marshaling extensive resources quickly to remove massive amounts of debris from communities that have been impacted by natural disaster."
The full Star-Ledger article can be found here.
The contracts for AshBritt are attached to this article as .pdf files.