Rice continues battle for legislated accountability

TRENTON – The way Sen. Ron Rice sees it, he has been fighting a battle for accountability for years.  On Thursday, he will be before the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee to fight one more time.

His bill, S1345, would demand that when problems have been found in a town, then the Comptroller must follow up with an audit to ensure compliance.

“It seems like we pick and choose where we want to audit,’’ said Rice, (D-28), Newark. “You have got to make sure there is compliance. You can’t just leave it.”

Specifically, Rice has had problems for years – going back to at least 2008, he said – with Newark, and the administration of former Mayor Cory Booker.

Back in September of 2011 Rice asked the governor to order an audit of the state’s largest city. He said “serious issues’’ were found during the Corzine administration, but the bottom line, according to Rice, is that there is no follow-up.

In 2008, Newark received $45 million in state aid in exchange for accepting state oversight.

In 2011, the city received $32 million in what is called transitional aid from the state.

Aid last year was reduced to about $10 million, but despite the type of oversight that accompanies such aid, Rice believes the accountability is lacking. It starts, but it never is completed, the way he sees it.

“I’m tired of this,’’ he said.  Cities such as Newark as well as other urban areas or counties in New Jersey have serious issues that need financial help but it must be accompanied by stringent transparency, he argues.

Under this bill, the so-called compliance audit must begin no less than 120 days following the submittal of the performance audit to the Comptroller and be completed within 12 months.  The municipality would be responsible for the total cost of the compliance audit. 

The bill also permits the Director of the Division of Local Government Services in the Department of Community Affairs to refer findings that may constitute alleged criminal conduct to the Attorney General or other appropriate prosecutorial authority for further civil or administrative action.

In 2011, an earlier version of this bill cleared the Senate 26-10.  An Assembly version was introduced that year but never was heard in committee.

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Rice demanding audit in Newark

Rice continues battle for legislated accountability