Engineer Hired by Montclair on Edgemont Pond Pleads to Fraud Charges

One of two principals in an engineering firm hired by the township of Montclair to do the engineering consulting services for the improvements to Edgemont Pond pleaded guilty in court yesterday to charges of taking thousands of dollars of kickbacks and arranging fraudulent contracts. Kenneth Disko faces $50,000 of fines and between three and five years in jail.

The charges related to business he did for Westfield, Tinton Falls and Scotch Plains-Fanwood school districts.

In September 2010, Montclair awarded a $38,700 contract to M. Disko Associates to do the engineering work for the pond. Disko was indicted by the state in March.

Councilor Cary Africk said he had concerns about M. Disko Associates when their bid came in, not because of any ethical concerns, but because he thought there were bigger firms that might handle the job better. He says he was assured by town staff that the town had experience with Disko and thought the firm would do a good job.The construction part of the project is being rebid now because of a problem in the way the RFP was worded.

“I had red flags,” Africk said. “Do I think there was wrongdoing? No. But we don’t really have a stellar record of picking vendors.”

At its last meeting, the Montclair Council had to reject all the bids submitted for the South Park Street improvement project when they all came in above the budget — calling into question the consulting work for that project as well.

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41 COMMENTS

  1. So outrageous…This state if rife with corruption, and it’s passed on to us, the taxpayers and citizens who must constantly reckon with the knowledge that our HARD EARNED money is not going where we want it to go–schools, roads, helping the poor, etc.

    Which is why I feel so–disheartened–by the Occupy Wall Street movement. Yes, the richest of the rich are often skirting the law and doing stupid (if not illegal things). And they should be held accountable. But what about folks like this Disco Ball guy? Sure, he may be (with all the bilking?) comfortably well-off. But I guarantee he is NOT “the 1%” or even close.

    Instead of hoisting signs and chanting chants, OWS could be much more effective if they offered succinct suggestions for figuring out how our great society (and yes, I still think it’s great) can be MUCH greater:

    transparency in gov’t, at all levels;
    the teaching of critical thinking skills and ethics in schools (not to mention creative thinking and solid basic skills);
    a reexamination of union power and where it all went wrong (see Rats in Cemetery story, below);
    a full examining of their own deeply held beliefs and expectations;
    self-education in matters of local and federal politics and government, as well as effective advocacy.

    I could go on. But as much as I want to believe in what this group, and others like them (including said unionists), represent, there is such a strong vibe of entitlement (yes, even the 95% can feel entitled) that I think their protests won’t solve anything, and actually waste a lot of time, energy, and, sigh, government resources.

  2. Can the town do ANYTHING correctly? Is it that difficult to get recommendations from other towns and then get estimates?

  3. You can’t really blame the township for not knowing the guy was crooked.

    I think Cary’s attempt to claim some level of victory here is a bit desperate.

  4. Township knew the guy was crooked just like they know the builder of the Sienna is Crooked but they love the kickbacks. The builder of the Sienna has yet to pay a single dollar in taxes owed to the town because there is one vacant store. There is a stipulation in their contract that until all retail is rented they dont pay a penny. Well there has been one store size of a broom closet still left unrented. What a joke! This town is crooked all the way to the core. If you think it isn’t your not paying attention.

    THIS TOWNSHIP COUNCIL NEED REPLACING FAST!!!!

  5. This is kind of like Ira’s endorsement of that former Hoboken Mayor who now resides in jail. You can’t blame Ira for endorsing a criminal as he wasn’t indicted yet, but you can blame the Fried 3 for hiring Ira. I suppose, he did his time, in BlueWave.

  6. “But we don’t really have a stellar record of picking vendors.”

    That’s an uinderstatement. Too bad there’s not a type of Angie’s List for these type of vendors.

  7. Councilor Cary Africk said he had concerns about M. Disko Associates when their bid came in… “I had red flags,” Africk said.

    Cary knew it all along!

    … he was assured by town staff that the town had experience with Disko and thought the firm would do a good job…

    Not Cary’s fault!

    “…we don’t really have a stellar record of picking vendors.”

    Cogent analysis!

  8. What has this story got to do with Occupy Wall Street? They are people frustrated and angry about do nothing government,corporate greed and high unemployment. Don’t expect a list of demands or suggestions to come from this purposely leaderless group.

  9. One more example of the lack of proper funds management and how Montclair has the ability to screw yet one more thing up. Lets just add this to the never ending list. For a town that has many well educated people, successful people in all walks of life, why do things get screwed up more than things go right?

  10. “why do things get screwed up more than things go right?”

    It’s due to the complete lack of accountability. The Faulkner system is bad for municipal accountability as is an appointed BOSE for the school budget accountability. It also doesn’t help when you ask the workers who would lose their jobs if their functions were outsourced, to perform the study on potentially outsourcing their functions. Only in Montclair.

    Do you think any town manager has ever even looked into why every project goes over budget? Why should they? It’s other peoples money.

  11. “For a town that has many well educated people, successful people in all walks of life, why do things get screwed up more than things go right?”

    …so why engage and pay a consultant to work on investigations and findings when qualified community members, willing to volunteer their expertise, could have concluded that most Olmstead Brothers period parks with man made ponds don’t have masonry retaining walls or edges?….Its obvious that the soil edges work better than the masonry edges, like the one at Edgemont Park , a newer intervention that weathers and falls apart. $38,700. burned for nothing….thats unacceptable.

  12. “THIS TOWNSHIP COUNCIL NEED REPLACING FAST!!!!”

    I don’t argue with this. However, the recent news that part of the previous council may be attempting a rerun has me thinking. The previous council wasn’t any better, giving us plenty of debt, interest only payments, mysterious agreements regarding the pre-K, etc.

    This makes me think that it’s a systemic problem: that there’s some reason we elect ineffective councils. Are we given poor choices from which to choose, or are we choosing badly?

    …Andrew

  13. Maybe a little bit of both, Andrew?

    How much control do people actually have over who steps up to the plate? Are they vetted properly? (Methinks not).

    The irony of the whole situation is that we are in the Internet age and it’s easier than ever to check out vendors’ backgrounds. If there’s a red flag out there, it will almost always show up.

  14. “This makes me think that it’s a systemic problem: that there’s some reason we elect ineffective councils. Are we given poor choices from which to choose, or are we choosing badly?”

    It’s is largely structural in my opinion.

    We need fully partisan elections on the local level. Does “move montclair forward” or “Smart Government Montclair” give you any idea whatsoever as to how they will govern?

    We also need to abandon the Council/Manager form of government and adopt a form where the council and Mayor have more direct control. We need the buck to stop someplace.

    https://www.njslom.org/types.html#Mayor-Council

  15. Cary did point out the problem with this company a while ago and Montclair Times ran an article about it at that time. People need to pay attention if they want things to improve. Whether it is by researching candidates for town council more thoroughly, getting involved or at a minimum, voting for local candidates. Out of approx. 37,000 residents, there are approx. 25,000 registered voters, with only approx. 7,000 voting in the last local election. I would think posters on this site vote (most of the time at least). The town needs the others to learn about the candidates and vote next May.

  16. Several insightful posts, here.

    While there are undoubtedly good people working for the township, we just don’t see the “culture of excellence” that we sometimes see in private business.

    Vendors are not thoroughly vetted. ROC, I come to the table and give sixteen reasons why we shouldn’t choose a particular vendor, because I did take half a day to read through ALL the proposals and six other Councilors vote me down, NONE of whom have looked at the proposals but just simply say “we trust our staff.”

    I don’t have a special genius, I’m just willing to put in the time. When we advertise, in our bid spec for dredging of the Edgemont POND (you know, glub, glub WATER) that the vendor should have experience with “streetscapes,” you know something is wrong.

    When a bidder says he has 4 months experience as an incorporated business but then lists pages of multi million dollar projects you know something is wrong.

    Frankgg? We agreed to send the Edgemont proposal to the Historic Preservation Commission and their first response was “why didn’t you give us this BEFORE you made your decision?”

    And, yes, perhaps this form of government no longer suits us.

  17. It sounds good, but the issue is that qualified candidates don’t run.

    Last election the choice was between Maddox (renegade incumbent who probably could not get along with his own family and lawsuit-happy), Michaelson (incumbent/no problem with the sewer fee fiasco and wayfinding proponent) and Fried (Bike Montclair Founder).

    It’s a thankless job, only made worse when these councilors choose to leave a legacy of frivolous capital spending on pet projects.

  18. Cary, don’t forget, the lack of merit based increases or any kind of performance review is hardly an incentive to perform one’s job above expectations. Hence, no accountability.

  19. “Vendors are not thoroughly vetted. ROC, I come to the table and give sixteen reasons why we shouldn’t choose a particular vendor, because I did take half a day to read through ALL the proposals and six other Councilors vote me down, NONE of whom have looked at the proposals but just simply say “we trust our staff.””

    Not that council members shouldn’t put in the effort, but “we trust our staff” seems to be asking for trouble in Montclair. Like the issue with serially poor councils, though, it makes me wonder. Why *shouldn’t* you be able to trust your staff? I trust mine. If you cannot, isn’t there a problem? Perhaps it is a problem that can be solved?

    If you cannot trust your staff, how can you expect anything to be implemented correctly?

    …Andrew

  20. “I don’t have a special genius, I’m just willing to put in the time. ”

    Have you put in any time on figuring out if the Park Street design costs should be included in the budget Cary?

    When I asked you upon what basis the assumption that property values would go UP 10% after the Park Street project thus “paying” for it, you placed said:

    “Please email the chair of the CFC, John Reichman. I am satisfied he met with, and gained input from both the Town Assessor, and an independent Assessor.”

    How is that any different than “trust[ing] our staff”?

    You engage in EXACTLY the same kind of LACK of oversight!

  21. “While there are undoubtedly good people working for the township, we just don’t see the “culture of excellence” that we sometimes see in private business.”

    Exactly the problem at all levels of government. It’s other people’s money.

  22. DagT, since when is the abuse of OPM a problem strictly confined to the government?
    Be brave, DagT ( I know you can do it – you have some Brooklyn in you ) and admit OPM is a cancer in the private sector as well. Did I hear someone else utter the phrase “bail out the banks?” I thought so.

  23. Oh come on, Spiro!
    You saw that “culture of excellence” at Enron, Madoff and Associates, and Lehman Brothers. And Goldman Sachs. And all of those bastions of the private sector who were so careful with OPM, like pension funds and the like.

    The private sector is good!
    The public sector is rotton!
    (Repeat , repeat).

  24. Andrew,

    Your point is excellent re. trust, but isn’t as useful in an organization with no performance reviews, no merit pay, and no way to, well, “fire” anyone.

    380 out of the 400 people working for the Township belong to unions. I presume they all have contracts with work rules detailing what can and can’t be done.

  25. My guess, Dag T, would be to throw the lousy ones in jail, or extract heavy fines. Rod Blogojevitch comes to mind. I’m sure there’s plenty of others !

  26. “380 out of the 400 people working for the Township belong to unions. I presume they all have contracts with work rules detailing what can and can’t be done.”

    That sure seems to be the case when it comes to my recycling and garbage pickup.

  27. Cary? I was talking about volunteers…and volunteers are…“…without renumeration except in the consciousness of being helpful to others.”

  28. Hey Roc,

    Ask your questions from someone who is actually on the committee in question

    South Park Street Project
    Township Engineer Kimberli Craft proposed three alternatives for moving the project forward to meet the Township’s proposed budget:
    1) the Business Improvement District will contribute an additional $55,000 and the Township will make up the approximately $300,000 difference;

    2) the project scope will be revised as originally recommended by the architectural team (eliminate raised planter, concrete parking lanes, sand-blasted leaves in concrete and reducing amount of cobble pavers in
    the median); again with the BID contributing an additional $55,000 and the Township making up the $50,000 difference; and

    3) in addition to the architects’ proposed changes, all concrete sidewalk would be plain vs. colored concrete (40% savings), resulting in no additional cost for the Township, but still relying on the BID to
    contribute $55,000 toward the street furniture.

    Councilors Lewis, Baskerville and Murnick will serve on a subcommittee to review all options.

    Councilor Africk will serve as alternate subcommittee member. The subcommittee will prepare a report for the Council on October 4.
    https://www.montclairnjusa.org/dmdocuments/2011-09-20_minutes.pdf

  29. Nevertheless, I really dont think that the South Park Street Project would be an improvement at all for Montclair Center’s streetscape and anything more that just repairing what is broken is a complete waste of money. South Park Street is more aestetically beautiful in it’s “as is” state, except for the lateral facade of the ugly building on the South East corner of Bloomfield Avenue….otherwise, South Park is just fine as is….Plus, I think that its not a wise idea to put trees or planters over culverts. Time, effort and money should be spent on something of more importance.

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