By Ron Leir
The law firm founded by Port Authority of New York & New Jersey Chairman David Samson – one of several P.A. figures linked to the controversial closing of access lanes to the GWB in Fort Lee – is suing Kearny in connection with another quasi-traffic-related matter.
The firm says Kearny unfairly and improperly denied its client, Interstate Outdoor Advertising, a town contract for constructing and marketing advertising billboards in the Kearny meadows targeted to motorists using Rt. 7 and/or the N.J. Turnpike.
That contract, which Kearny awarded to a rival firm which the town originally used as a consultant on the deal, is designed to give the town a windfall in new municipal revenues.
In a complaint filed Dec. 26, 2013, in Hudson County Superior Court, attorney Michael Beck, with the West Orange law firm Wolff & Samson, alleges that the Kearny governing body improperly contracted with the Colorado-headquartered firm of All Vision LLC, which has a Rutherford office, for a license “to construct and operate billboards” on three town-owned meadows parcels.
The contract was awarded Nov. 12, 2013, by unanimous vote of Mayor Alberto Santos and Town Council members Carol Jean Doyle, Laura Pettigrew, Michael Landy, Susan McCurrie, Albino Cardoso and Madeline Peyko. Councilwomen Alex Arce and Eileen Eckel were absent.
The resolution adopted by the governing body says that the town’s CFO reviewed proposals submitted by All Vision, Interstate Outdoor Advertising of Cherry Hill and Lamar Advertising of Baton Rouge, La. and found that All Vision’s proposal would give Kearny the best deal.
At the time, Kearny officials said that under the contract awarded, All Vision would pay the town an annual “lump sum payment” for five years on each of the lots, all located off the N.J. Turnpike’s western spur, totaling $200,000 by the end of the fifth year, plus an “annual license fee” that would generate $10.4 million after 35 years.
But Interstate’s complaint says that the town’s solicitation for bids and subsequent award process “… were undertaken in direct violation of … New Jersey’s Local Public Contracts Law …” and asks the court to set aside the town’s award to All Vision.
In October 2012, Kearny hired All Vision as a consultant in its plan to develop and market the meadows billboards and in April 2013, sought proposals for the project for which Interstate submitted the only response in June 2013.
In August 2013, Kearny rejected Interstate’s bid.
Next month, Kearny ended its consulting contract with All Vision and, two weeks later, called for another set of bids with somewhat different specifications but “did not notify Interstate of the September [bid solicitation],” the complaint says.
On Nov. 12, 2013, Kearny awarded the contract to All Vision.
The complaint says that Kearny failed to follow the state laws governing the “procurement process and award” in contracting with All Vision and “violated its responsibility to the public to ensure a fair and open public bidding process.” Moreover, by engaging All Vision as a consultant, the company “gained inside knowledge” of the billboard sites, giving it an “unfair advantage” over rival bidders.
And Kearny never notified Interstate that its bid had fallen short, the complaint adds.
Attorneys differed on an interpretation of a 2005 case known as Clean Earth Dredging Technologies Inc. v. Hudson County Improvement Authority in which the Appellate Court was asked to rule on a contested lease of land through public bidding.
In a responding brief, Town Attorney Greg Castano filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, arguing that Interstate’s legal efforts to get the All Vision contract set aside were a “… transparent attempt … to portray a sinister scenario from non-sinister averments, none of which describe an illegality. Plaintiff attempts to bundle [its allegations] all up into a cause of action by saying they are violations of the Local Public Contracts Law. That is the essence of Plaintiff ’s case.”
The court has reserved decision, pending the filing of final briefs by both sides. A ruling may be several weeks away.
Town ends S. Kearny suit
In another legal matter, on Feb. 11 the mayor and Town Council authorized a settlement agreement for the town to accept $435,000 to end longstanding litigation over the disastrous construction of the South Kearny Public Safety facility on John Miller Way.
In April 2006 the town sued architects Louis F. Brandt, Michael Kuybida, Robert Strebi and Brandt- Kuybida Architects for professional malpractice and breach of contract after having discovered that the section of the building occupied by the Police Department in 1996 was sinking and there were leaks, buckled floor tiles and wall cracks. By 2007, ceilings had collapsed and utility pipes separated and pulled – all signs of land settlement. In February 2007 the town ordered the facility vacated as unsafe.
Since then, after having temporarily relocated police and fire services to rented space in a nearby South Kearny warehouse, the town took steps to reconfigure the original facility – with the installation of interior trailers – to accommodate both a police and fire presence in an area excluding the original police portion of the building, which remains unremedied and which, Town Administrator Michael Martello says, could cost more than $2 million to fix.
“But for the six people – police and fire – we have down there now,” Martello added, “the space they have now is probably adequate to their needs.”
By Martello’s reckoning, Kearny has spent somewhere close to $300,000 to install the trailers, electrical, plumbing and mechanical systems, plus about $30,000 for furniture and computer equipment and is bonding an additional $250,000 to replace the 9-1-1 emergency communications system that Sandy wrecked, for a combined total of nearly $600,000. And, between 1996 – when Martello condemned the original facility as unsafe – and 2012, the town was spending $8,000 a month (for a total amount of about $1.5 million during that period) to lease warehouse space as the then-substitute South Kearny Public Safety facility, plus whatever was spent to adjust that space to accommodate the police and fire presence.