NEWARK — In a sharp turnaround, officials in Essex County, N.J., announced Monday that they would not accept the sole bid on a contract to run a 450-bed immigrant detention center after questions were raised about the transparency and fairness of the bidding process.On 7/28/11, I pointed to the similarities between this situation and that of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Vanderbilt Yard, which was seemingly assigned to Forest City Ratner early on, 18 months before an RFP.
The lone bidder was an affiliate of Community Education Centers, a private detention company whose executives have close political ties to Gov. Chris Christie and the top elected official in Essex County, Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr.
The county appeared to give special treatment to Community Education, though its record in housing immigrant detainees is checkered. After The New York Times reported on the contracting process last month, Senator Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey wrote to Immigration and Customs Enforcement to ask senior officials to review the deal.
In a telephone call Monday afternoon, James R. Paganelli, Essex County’s counsel, said the county would put out another request for bids in the fall to attract more bidders and better terms. He called it “a business decision” and said the allegations of improprieties played no role. “We want to foster competition, because that makes everybody sharpen their pencils and we hope to get better rates from people,” he said.
...Reporters pressed Mr. DiVincenzo and his staff on possible shortcomings of the bidding process: The county did not actively seek out other bidders, a common practice in government contracts, and its 23-day deadline on the multimillion-dollar bid was unusually short.
One difference? This time, the Times paid attention.