Newark sidestepped a public bidding process to award a no-bid $5.4 million contract to a private entity associated with the New Jersey Devils to renovate a public ice rink in violation of a state law, acting State Comptroller Kevin Walsh announced on Wednesday.
The state comptroller’s investigation found that in 2018, Newark entered into an agreement Devils Renaissance Development to repair the ice rink at the Sharpe James and Kenneth A. Gibson Recreation and Aquatic Center without putting the project up for bid.
Newark reportedly used the state’s Adopt-a-Park law to contract with a private firm to maintain, operate or improve a park without competitive bidding, as long no public funds are used.
According to Walsh’s report, Newark wound up spending $5.4 million
“Municipalities that renovate parks are required to follow an open and transparent process that invites competition to avoid favoritism and advance the economic interests of taxpayers,” Walsh said. “Newark violated state law when it simply selected its preferred contractor without seeking competition through a public bid.”
The Devils group acted as a general contractor for the project without compensation and simply forwarded city funds to their subcontractors to pay for work.
“There are legally permissible and transparent ways for the City of Newark to partner with companies and non-profits while also complying with public contracting law, but that did not happen here,” Walsh said. “The public bidding process in New Jersey exists to prevent both favoritism and the appearance of favoritism when taxpayer money is being spent.”
The report claims that Newark has done this twice before.
“We disagree with the Comptroller’s findings. We relied on advice of outside counsel and will continue to comply with the law,” said Kenyatta Stewart, the city’s corporation counsel. Most importantly, Newark’s youth can enjoy skating on a first-class ice rink built by the Jersey Devils.”
The recreation center is located in Newark’s Ironbound neighborhood.
This story was updated at 5:58 PM with comment from Stewart.