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Saturday, August 9, 2008

Pay-to-play suit set to unfold

The seedy yet widespread underworld of shady pay-to-play deals among New Jersey's political ranks may have been dealt a serious blow, with the filing of a lawsuit last month.

A woman is suing Cherry Hill Township, alleging termination from her positions as township attorney and purchasing agent was linked to her refusal to accommodate the requests of municipal officials, who wanted her to rig the township's no-bid contract structure to get contracts to firms hand-picked by the Camden County Democratic Party.

Deborah Sanders, who worked with the township from 2004 up until her termination in 2008, filed the suit in Camden County Superior Court in late July, with depositions set to commence over the coming weeks.

She alleges that Mayor Bernie Platt, Business Administrator Maris Kukainis, and others told her to fix bid specs after the fact, to get contracts into the hands of entities favored by powerful county party officials.

The suit went as far as stating that Camden County democrats marked up lists of township vendors to demonstrate to Cherry Hill officials which entities should receive the lucrative, no-bid contracts.

After Ms. Sanders refused, she was told that she "rubbed some people the wrong way and that her job was not secure, and that the raise she had been expecting was denied," according to the suit.

The case could end up being of the landmark variety.

Through its course more and more light could be shed upon the widespread practice of pay-to-play, in which contractors and vendors receive lucrative government contracts in return for support or contributions.

It costs the state billions of dollars, as inferior firms get municipal contracts, which pay out much higher than what a true low-bidder would likley to receive, but many state and municipal laws dealing with the practice lack the teeth to truly stop it.

Maybe Ms. Sanders' case will help change that.

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