PATERSON, NJ – Facing possible lawsuits over contracts worth tens of millions of dollars, Paterson officials decided Wednesday night to start over on picking companies to handle the city’s garbage collection and disposal.

After lengthy public discussions that have dragged on for four weeks, the City Council rejected all the bids on the garbage contracts and the administration said it plans to begin seeking new proposals on November 23.

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The award of the contracts has been complicated by the school district’s last-minute decision to drop out of the deal as well as by questions involving the campaign fund-raising breakfast that a lawyer for one of the garbage companies hosted for Councilman Benji Wimberly’s successful Assembly race.

In fact, the garbage contracts seemed on track to be awarded two weeks ago until reported on the fund-raiser for Wimberly and his running mate, Shavonda Sumter. Wimberly subsequently asked his colleagues to reconsider their previous vote so he could recuse himself to avoid any perception of a conflict of interest.

With Wimberly out of the council chambers, his colleagues voted to start over on the contract process. Several city residents – Waheeda Muhammad, Jonathan Hodges and Sylvia Farrar – all spoke at the meeting urging the council to seek new garbage bids.

Paterson had started the original bidding process in early May and in August announced it expected to save $300,000 by joining with the school district on a combined contract. But a month later, school officials changed their minds.

The district’s withdrawal from the contract became one of the main reasons city officials decided to seek new bids, on the grounds that the proposal had changed substantially.

Under the revised schedule, Paterson will open the new bids on December 15 and the city council will vote to award the separate contracts for garbage disposal and collection at its meeting on December 20.

Lawyers and officials from four of the firms seeking the contracts have besieged city officials with arguments questioning their competitor’s proposals and assertions that their firms would save the city significant money.