Newark councilman irked by shortage of contracts to city companies

By Dan Ivers | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on September 01, 2015

NEWARK – Members of the Municipal Council on Tuesday questioned city officials on how they are awarding contracts, saying not enough are being granted to Newark businesses.

At-Large Councilman Carlos Gonzalez broached the topic during a discussion on whether to authorize a deal of up to $128,500 for paper and plastic products to the city over the next two years. The city received only 3 qualified bids for the service, from companies based in Freehold, Paterson and Livingston.

"We have always wanted to have Newark businesses to be awarded this kind of contract, and the mayor, at the time he was a councilperson, he was a big advocate (for that)," Gonzalez said.

"I don't see that many Newark businesses getting contracts under this administration either."

Purchasing Director Adam Cruz replied that representatives from Mayor Ras Baraka's administration had formed a commission to examine how to better engage city businesses in bidding for contracts.

"Its just going to take some time, but the mayor has made it very clear that he wants a very large participation from the city of Newark," he said.

Cruz added that his department had recently unveiled a database on the city's website, where local businesses can register in order to stay informed on upcoming contracts and assist them in placing their bids.

"I think you need to do a better job of advertising that that's available. I think that's a good tool to kind of level the playing field," said North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos Jr.

Baraka and members of his administration have placed a high-priority on preference for city residents and companies in awarding public jobs and contracts.

Earlier this year, the council passed an ordinance requiring all its contractors and vendors to hire at least 40 percent Newarkers, or give them at least 40 percent of their total work hours. Last month, it also approved a law forcing contractors receiving financial assistance to hire workers from city-approved job training programs. Both measures were introduced by At-Large Councilman Eddie Osborne.

Council President Mildred Crump defended the administration, pointing out that the purchasing department had set aside the contract for either minority or female-owned businesses. Officials had hoped to solicit 11 bids for the service, but received only three.

"This particular piece of legislation speaks to the mayor's determination to make sure that minority and women-owned businesses are included in the process," she said. "It's a process where your office sends out the bids, and some people respond and some people don't."

Gonzalez, however, said his concern was not with the contract on the table, but rather with ensuring city-based companies had a leg up on their competition.

"I don't have a problem with this contract, I have a problem with the process," he said.

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