There were new rules in place at the state Economic Development Authority meeting Tuesday. Participants at the suddenly must-see meetings of the EDA had to line up and sign in to speak and their comments were limited to three minutes, more or less. It was a format that favored the organized, and on Tuesday that was a delegation of Camden city leaders and residents, led by Camden Mayor Frank Moran who, unlike previous organized groups, came to lavish praise on the EDA board.
“We want to continue to move our city forward. And we wanted to be here this morning to simply say thank you,” said the mayor. “Thank you to the board members that have been here, the new board members, and to the votes of confidence and the support of the projects that really, really transformed our city.”
“Because of the actions of this board, Camden is making a comeback,” added Camden County Sheriff Gilbert Wilson. “Now, like anything else, it can be improved upon — the bills, the laws. What you’re doing today as far as tightening this thing up, is on time. Anything to improve is a great idea.”
EDA board chairman Kevin Quinn did announce some tightening of internal processes related to the EDA’s incentive programs.
“Among the most important changes is the establishment of a new division of portfolio management and compliance, whose responsibility is developing and overseeing internal process-improvement initiatives,” reported Quinn. “The director of this division reports directly to Tim [Sullivan] and serves as a member of the organization’s leadership team, which was not the case previously.”
Quinn said the beefed-up division will help monitor compliance with the EDA’s program, which had been lacking, according to the comptroller’s report at the center of the controversy swirling around the authority.
A task force set up by Gov. Phil Murphy to take a close look at the programs was to issue a report on its findings this week, but that is on hold as insurance broker, political kingmaker and potential target of the task force, George Norcross, challenges it in court. It was something acknowledged by those in attendance Tuesday.
“The only thing that can dampen the momentum that is happening in Camden city right now is politics. I hate to say it, but it’s politics,” said freeholder director Louis Cappelli. “If we stick to our governmental focus, if we stick to the mission of this agency, things will continue to grow in Camden.”
But New Jersey Citizen Action communications director Jerome Montes saw things a bit differently. “Yes, the EDA has created jobs through partnerships with these companies, but we cannot ignore the facts that there’s allegations of corruption, mismanagement that really have to be tended to,” he countered.
The EDA incentive programs expire in just a few weeks. The governor has proposed a leaner, more targeted and capped replacement, while Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester), backed by Camden political muscle, likes the program pretty much as is.
Members of the delegation acknowledged that the state’s tax incentive programs are not perfect, but that a fix should come in the form of a tweak and not a major overhaul.