Decades before casino gambling was even a thought in Atlantic City, the city developed a long storied history of graft and corruption. While organized crime festered and politicians used the city as a personal piggy bank, the city enjoyed a dedicated police department and fire service for well over a century. Thankfully, those dedicated men and women were providing outstanding services regardless of the political and criminal environment that surrounded them.
So in November 2016 along comes the Municipal Stabilization Recovery Act. Say what you want about the broad reaching authority the act bestows on a very few, some parts of the act have certainly given the city an opportunity to return to a fiscally responsible and vibrant city once again. We all hope that happens very soon. The part of the MSRA that disgusted me then and disgusts me even more today is the power that was given to a few individuals to literally decimate the public safety agencies and the citizens they serve and protect. Unfortunately that is an opinion for another day.
On Sept. 11, State Auditor Stephen Eels released an audit of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority. The CRDA is one of New Jersey’s largest agencies and controls more than $300 million in assets. The audit was conducted for the period Jan. 1, 2014, through Dec. 31, 2017. If you live in Atlantic City or have any interest whatsoever in its economic vitality, I urge you to read the 29 page audit. Please don’t read the 15 page rebuttal from the CRDA, it’s a laughable work of fiction. Way too little and too late to ease the suffering of public safety professionals and restore the level of public safety enjoyed prior to 2016.
While our union’s members were forced to give up over 30 percent of their salaries, have their other benefits eviscerated, their manpower slashed to numbers not seen in decades, morale crushed, equipment failures and public safety facilities crumbling, it sounds like the CRDA was Atlantic City business as usual with a spigot of cash spewing out of its coffers. A few highlights if you don’t have the time to read the report: $18.7 million spent in excess of board authorization, wasted commercial space, roof repairs $2.1 million in excess of bid, $1.75 million in unauthorized payments and overpayments, $225,000 of ineligible severance pay and a visitor’s center that is virtually unused to just name some highlights. My favorite that nobody seems to notice but me is the giant signs and billboards on the Atlantic City Expressway pointing to the visitor’s center on the way out of Atlantic City. I’m certainly no marketing expert but shouldn’t we be snaring the tourists on the way in to Atlantic City? In response to the scathing audit, CRDA Board Chairman Robert Mulcahy says the authority will “continue to seek opportunities to improve.” That’s it? That is unacceptable.
So the CRDA continues its spending and waste as if their personal ATM has infinite piles of cash. Somehow they try to defend it while public safety professionals are taping together band aids to prevent a major tragedy. The citizens of Atlantic City, the visitors that provide the lifeblood to keep the city alive, and police officers and firefighters deserve much better than that. A tragedy is overdue, mark my words.
What I have not seen since the audit was released is shouts, screams and demands for legislative hearings regarding the CRDA audit. The chair and senior staff need to sit on the hot seat and answer a few tough questions about the incredible waste and incompetence. Yes, I know legislative hearings are just political theater, but the cops and firefighters who are struggling to pay bills and losing their homes deserve to watch somebody else squirm for a change. While they have been suffering financially, the CRDA was seemingly shredding extra cash. Every single New Jersey taxpayer, every resident of Atlantic City and every cop and firefighter deserves to hear some answers. Unfortunately, “seeking opportunities to improve” just doesn’t cut it for me and I sure hope it didn’t for anybody else. If the hearings don’t happen, business as usual has officially returned to the city, except this time safety and security are in grave jeopardy.
Patrick Colligan, of Woodbridge, Middlesex County, is state president of the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association.