Published in the Trenton Times, Thursday, March 06, 2008
State A.G. probes Hamilton contracts
Gilmore administration's practices questioned
BY DARRYL R. ISHERWOOD
HAMILTON -- Investigators from the state Attorney General's Office are examining the way the previous township administration handled construction contracts amid allegations that projects were expanded without proper approvals, township officials revealed this week.
The revelation came after township Public Works Inspector Mitch Kirkuff told the council at a meeting Tuesday that "at least tens of thousands of dollars and possibly hundreds of thousands" had been added to local paving and road projects in past years for additional work without documentation or council approval.
If true, the practice would violate public contract laws, Business Administrator Bill Guhl said.
The inspector told council members the township's files are riddled with inspection reports that show the additional construction, along with comments from various inspectors who refused to sign off on the added work.
In response to the allegations, Guhl reminded Kirkuff and the council members of the ongoing state Attorney General's investigation under way since January, saying the add-ons to construction projects were being looked at.
"Mitch and I have spoken about this already and I can tell you that this consideration is part of the investigation," said Guhl.
The state Attorney General's Office has not confirmed the investigation.
Reached yesterday, Lloyd Jacobs, who formerly headed the planning, engineering and inspections department, acknowledged that change orders were used but said there was nothing wrong with the way the contracts were handled.
He said the change orders were often used to accommodate requests from the public.
"The last administration, I know, made some significant improvements in contract administration," he said. "Those improvements resulted in significant efficiencies, cost savings and more work being done for the public for a given amount of money."
Change orders were put together at the end of a project and were given to the council once the project was complete, Jacobs said.
"From my vantage point I believe what we did was very much in the public interest and I do know we had some major efficiencies that we put in place," he said.
Jacobs also defended the administration, saying that in 1999, the year before Mayor Glen D. Gilmore took office, there were more than $1 million in change orders on public projects.
Jacobs said change orders dropped significantly under the Gilmore administration.
Overall, he said, his department had saved money on contracts during the eight years of the Gilmore administration.
Kirkuff said he had no intention of being a whistleblower, but said he didn't feel he had a choice once council began asking questions.
"I really just wanted to bring to council's attention that sidewalk repairs had been done and paid for by the township and that it wasn't part of the township's responsibilities to take care of that, it's the homeowners' responsibility," he said. "But they asked questions and I'm not going to lie to them."
Although the state Attorney General's Office has not confirmed the investigation sources have told The Times that investigators have been in the municipal building since January. FBI agents have also been in the building, sources have confirmed.
Information on what investigators have been probing for has been scarce, but several employees have been interviewed, officials have said, and the questions have focused, in part, on the financial practices of Gilmore's administration.
This is the first indication that the engineering department is also part of the scope, but Council President Dennis Pone said while he has not been informed specifically about the investigation, he is not surprised.
"I'm not surprised at any of it," Pone said. "I'm not surprised that anyone would be included in any investigation considering what we now know about how the past administration conducted business."
Pone said the council had requested investigations by county, state and federal officials at various times over the past year.
"Apparently it is finally being done by somebody," he said. "We asked for it and we welcome it."
Contact Darryl Isherwood at Disherwood@njtimes.com or (609) 989-5708.
Online story here. Archived here.
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- Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.