Baraka, Jeffries comment about state report's claims of fiscal waste and abuse at Newark Watershed

By Mark Bonamo | February 19th, 2014

NEWARK - Newark mayor candidates Ras Baraka and Shavar Jeffries offered comments about the contents of a State Comptroller's office investigate report released on Wednesday that claims a lack of oversight at the now-shuttered Newark Watershed Conservation and Development Corporation (NWCDC) led to a fiscally irresponsible atmosphere and the waste of public money.

"I was one of the main people vocal against the Watershed. Those folks were down there taking care of their family and their friends. I'm not surprised by any of it, and it could have been stopped a long time ago," said Baraka, who was elected as Newark's South Ward councilman in 2010. "All of our services should be brought back into the city. I've [been a principal] a school, and the culture of the organization under your watch emanates from you. The culture of the city is what's important. The minute or you see or smell impropriety, you've got to act on it immediately."

"The comptroller's report has further illustrated what has already been known for more than a decade. The blatant waste and mismanagement of the watershed authority mirrors what exists at the municipal level in the City of Newark," said Jeffries spokesperson Lupe Todd. "Take Councilman Ras Baraka. He has padded his payroll with relatives and
collected more than $250,000 from multiple public jobs. Meanwhile, streets haven't been plowed, services are lackluster, and there have been fewer police officers on the street. This is another glaring example of why our city needs and deserves to move in a new direction."

Among the assertions made in the 45 page-report is that the agency's executive director, Linda Watkins-Brashear, wrote unauthorized payroll checks, provided no-bid contracts to personal associates and covertly authorized investments in an account that lost more then $500,000 in public funds.

The NWCDC board dissolved itself by vote in March 2013, one week after the State Comptroller's office led interviews that unearthed unauthorized check writing and risky investment activity by Watkins-Brashear, according to the State Comptroller's office. At the same dissolution meeting, the agency's board authorized a severance package for Watkins-Brashear worth more than $450,000, even though evidence demonstrated that she was not eligible for this amount because she resigned, the State Comptroller's office stated.

Before the agency disbanded, the City of Newark appointed the management of its water assets through service contracts worth approximately $10 million a year. The State Comptroller's office's investigation also found that the City of Newark awarded the NWCDC with no-bid service contracts between 2008 and 2011 and then failed to
oversee those contracts.

The findings of the report have been referred to law enforcement authorities.

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