In the days immediately following the devastation of Superstorm Sandy, towns as well as the State of New Jersey were faced with the daunting task of beginning the clean-up process. Neighborhoods, especially coastal towns, were damaged and destroyed with debris everywhere blocking streets and creating a health hazard. Residents gutting their homes and disposing of all that had been destroyed were lining their streets with debris, turning roads into one-lane canyons. Given all that towns were facing during this time, I find the constant drone of the media as it tries to find some scurrilous political issue in the hiring of Ashbritt by some communities to be an insult to all of those devastated by this storm.

Here are the facts. Many vendors that towns purchase equipment from or acquire services from are under “state contract.” This is a way to ensure quality contractors have been previously vetted at a fair price. New Jersey typically selects state contractors via a competitive bidding process. Obviously during an emergency, that process needs to be accelerated when the public’s health and safety are at risk. In the days after Sandy, towns that were greatly impacted knew they would be facing huge costs for clean-up that would amount to many millions of dollars. It was, and remains vitally important to towns, that everything be done in a manner that would ensure full reimbursement from FEMA. This was not a time to risk a contractor selection process that might put that reimbursement in jeopardy. One way to ensure this was to hire the vendor who had the state contract, in this case, Ashbritt. I can assure everyone that virtually no one in New Jersey had ever even heard of Ashbritt, let alone knew of their “political connections.” They simply were the company available to municipalities that assured full compliance with the law and all applicable rules and regulations.

If someone wants to question how and why Ashbritt was selected by the State of New Jersey, that is their prerogative, but do not suggest that the affected towns’ motives were anything less than having the job done quickly and efficiently, while getting the maximum financial reimbursement possible from FEMA.  There was no time to have politically motivated debates or discussions about who to hire for what was needed.

It’s easy for those sitting on the sidelines to play Monday Morning Quarterback, second-guessing decisions made by decision-makers during an unprecedented crisis. It is quite another thing to be in the position of having to make decisions that will impact not only people’s lives and safety, but their overall long-term well-being. I am quite certain that few if any of those writing these articles or anonymously blogging behind silly screen names, were actually in the trenches, manning Emergency Operations Centers and making fast and critical decisions. Certainly, if any town or even the State did not select Ashbritt, but instead went with another company that did not perform well or quickly enough, we would all be reading articles about the inept decisions made by hiring a lesser company “just to save a few bucks on the backs of storm victims when Ashbritt, a company everyone knew had the resources to get the job done, was available.” After all, how many people would hire a contractor of unknown ability to work on their home and pass over a known expert, just to “maybe” save a few dollars?  Our residents and taxpayers, especially those so impacted by this horrible storm, deserve the same level of consideration from their elected representatives that we all have for our own homes.

Anthony P. Mercantante, P.P. AICP
Township Administrator, Middletown Township