Graham hired target of letter after contribution
In March of 2015, a Sussex County Freeholder wrote to the county counsel with concerns about several lawyers retained by Sussex County:
(The full, 17-page correspondence is available from Watchdog upon request)
In July 2016, Freeholder George Graham engineered a no-bid contract for the very law firm identified above as being at the very heart of the solar scam that has cost Sussex taxpayers upwards of $40 million. Here is what Freeholder boss Graham said in 2015 about the lawyers he turned around and gave a no-bid contract to in 2016:
"It's all the same people that dug the hole, and every time I ask for a clear, third-party fresh set of eyes, they throw in somebody else that appears out of the past. How many times can you recycle the same names? Are they protecting specific people, or are they protecting the county?” (NJ Herald, March 28, 2015)
This is what then Freeholder (now Assemblywoman) Gail Phoebus said:
"Mr. Weinstein had clear conflicts of interest. Far from recommending ‘independent' counsel to guide us through a complex negotiation, you led us to the partner of the attorney who shares responsibility with you for failing to obtain a performance bond... All of this raises serious questions. (While) Mr. Weinstein negotiated the solar project settlement and rendered advice to the freeholder board, whose interests was he serving”? (NJ Herald, March 28, 2015)
So why -- under Freeholder boss Graham -- is Weinstein back?
...in September 2014, the county freeholder board appointed Weinstein as special counsel to guide it through that process.
The appointment of Weinstein -- whose law partner, John Cantalupo, had been on retainer to the county since 2011 for legal services related to county-backed bonds issued on the solar project -- was criticized last year by then-Freeholder Gail Phoebus, now a state assemblywoman, who called it a conflict of interest.
While offering praise for Wednesday's presentation, Roseann Salanitri -- also of Sandyston -- tempered her praise with criticism over the fact that a large portion of it was given by Weinstein.
"He was the same counsel that represented us on (last year's) settlement, and that settlement contained ‘hold harmless' clauses for just about everybody and their grandmother," Salanitri said. "I don't know Mr. Weinstein and have nothing against him personally, but I believe this presentation is not as credible as it could have been if it had been conducted by someone (else)." (NJ Herald, July 29, 2016)
Freeholder Director George Graham defended the appointment of Weinstein, saying: "He's the only one who has institutional knowledge after all the other people who ran out the door." (NJ Herald, July 29, 2016)
Why has Graham -- a one-time critic of the solar scam -- become its enabler?
When Graham was on the outside, as a minority member (with Phoebus) of the five member board, Graham did one thing, now he does the opposite. Now, as the boss of the Freeholder Board (controlling three of its five members) Graham is comfortable with those he used to call the bad guys and has even taken campaign contributions from them.
What all this means is that Sussex County taxpayers must remain vigilant, must attend Freeholder meetings, and must continue to ask probing questions.