PATERSON, NJ – The City Council has balked at approving a $129,000 contract for a Monmouth County firm to work on Paterson’s new master plan, as members demanded to know why the administration did not recommend the company with the lowest price.

“How did we decide to pick this group when they’re not the first or second lowest bidder?” asked Councilman Julio Tavarez.

The city’s acting business administrator, Harry Cevallos, explained to the council that the contract was being awarded through a request for proposal process, not through traditional bids, and that “other factors” like expertise and references were evaluated as well as the competing prices.

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Mayor Jeffrey Jones, who also is serving as Paterson’s interim Community Development director while Lanisha Makle serves a 90-day suspension, has recommended that the city hire Heyer, Gruel and Associates of Red Bank to develop the master plan for $129,000. Three other companies submitted proposals for the job: BFJ Planning of New York for $98,830, Phillips Priess Grygiel of Hoboken for $127,000, and Burgis Associates of Westwood for $166,000.

A master plan serves as a guide for subsequent development decisions. For example, a master plan might set priorities for the different types of industries a city wants to attract, or an outline for new transportation projects, or goals for creating recreational facilities. Paterson’s last master plan was written in 2003, Jones said.

The conflict over the master plan contract initially arose involving the City Council’s special meeting on July 26. The administration was seeking to get the contract approved at that meeting, while the city council requested that a representative of Heyer, Gruel attend the meeting to discuss the job.

But Paterson Corporation Counsel Paul Forsman told the council that asking just one company among the four vying for the contract to attend the meeting might create the appearance of bias for that company. So Heyer, Gruel was told not to come.

During the July 26 meeting, council and administration officials held a general discussion about the master plan contract and decided to put it on their next agenda. That turned out to be a special meeting on Wed., Aug. 8.

But Wednesday’s meeting turned out to be another stand-off on this issue, with the council members complaining that the administration still had not provided them with enough information about the contract and Jones saying they had not asked for the information.

“I’m not prepared to vote to approve a contract with this limited information,’’ said Councilman William McKoy.

“Right now, I’m blindsided,’’ said Councilman Rigo Rodriguez. “I would like to have some input on what we’re doing. I’m afraid of voting for something I know nothing about just because, with all due respect to your administration, just because the administration recommends it.’’

Councilwoman Ruby Cotton suggested the administration provide a written report on why Heyer, Gruel was picked over the other companies. Rodriguez also said he wanted all four companies seeking the contract to appear before the council to answer questions.

Jones told the council that the selection of the master plan consultant had been started by Makle before her suspension. He said the Community Development department was “in transition” and that he was playing “Monday morning quarterback” on the issue.

Jones eventually said he was “on the same page” with the council members and said he would provide the information they requested so they can decide which company to hire. The vote on the contract was pushed back until September.