On May 21st, the Middletown Township Committee introduced Ordinance 2012-3060, which loosens the Township’s pay-to-play rules and reinstates the weaker state regulations that were in place prior to January 1, 2008.  A public hearing on the Ordinance is scheduled for June 18 at 8 p.m.

The Township’s move follows the footsteps of the Monmouth County Freeholders, who voted unanimously on January 26th to adopt the state’s “fair and open” process in place of stronger pay-to-play rules that were put in place in the county after 2008 Operation Bid Rig.

The Township Ordinance, if adopted, opens the door to rewarding politically connected persons and businesses with municipal contracts, weakens competition, and may have the direct effect of increasing property taxes in line with higher contract costs.

New Jersey State Comptroller Matthew Boxer released a 20-page report in September 2011 entitled “Weaknesses in the Pay-to-Play Law’s “Fair and Open” Contracting System”.  It states, “Qualifying for the fair-and-open exception returns the local government entity to the traditional, unregulated system of contracting.”  “In effect, no-bid contracts may be awarded to favored local vendors much as they had been prior to the passage of the pay-to-play law, and without regard to issues such as vendor cost.”

Further, in order to receive certain categories of state aid, a municipality is required to have a strong pay-to-play ordinance in place.  The state Department of Community Affairs recommends a model pay-to-play ordinance that is similar to the one currently in effect in Middletown.

”The main problem with “fair and open” is that it’s so easy to qualify, that it pretty much allows for business as usual,” said Heather Taylor, Communications Director for public advocacy organization The Citizens Campaign.  She said, ”When we are reading in the paper that stealth PACs are springing up in Middlesex County and other places, now is not the time to be relaxing the rules, but rather the time to make sure we have the strongest laws possible.”

Linda Baum

Middletown, NJ