While many have the Waterview rezoning issue on their minds for Tuesday’s Parsippany Council meeting, another resolution will be introduced on Tuesday involving transparency in government.
“I am joining Republican Assemblywoman Betty Lou DeCroce in urging passage of the Transparency in Government Legal Bill Act,” said Mayor Candidate Jonathan Nelson.
Assemblywoman Betty Lou DeCroce introduced legislation, A4370, requiring a detailed invoice for services rendered before payment is made. The bill requires certain information such as “a description of each legal service rendered, an itemized list of the expenses involved for each service and how the amount of the charge was determined, must be detailed in an invoice.
“The passage of this resolution and adoption of Best Practices will save the taxpayers of Parsippany money. This resolution will establish a method of greater transparency and accountability when it comes to how our tax dollars are spent on legal fees,” said Nelson.
After investigation by the State Comptroller's office, “what we found were repeated failures to review legal bills and manage legal contracts in a way that looks out for taxpayers," said New Jersey State Comptroller Matthew Boxer. "Public officials need to scrutinize their legal bills as if they were paying for them out of their own pocket, otherwise taxpayers are going to get ripped off.”
“I am also calling on other members of the governing body of Parsippany-Troy Hills to support my resolution,” said Nelson. “For too long, the Mayor and Township attorney have run rough shot over any attempts to get clarification on what has been billed, how much time was spent, how much it cost, and what it was for.”
One councilmember is supporting this bill, especially after recent events. Paul Carifi Jr. said that he is “100 percent in favor of it.”
“I requested an itemized unredacted list of all the attorney bills and fees that the town has paid out for the year 2013,” he said, adding that he requested this about six weeks ago and has yet to receive it. “First I was told I’d be getting (the information) and then I was told that as per the town attorney I was not entitled to it. When I requested that in writing I received another email that if they knew why I wanted it and what I wanted it for, maybe they could help me out. I clearly stated why I wanted it.”
Carifi said that he did some research and checked with other town attorneys, who said that councilmembers are entitled to such information.
“I’m a councilman and I’m entitled to know where the money of the taxpayers of this town is being spent,” he said, adding that the latest update is two weeks ago when he was told he would be receiving something, either the list of bills or something in writing as to why they cannot give it to him, but still has yet to receive anything.
Part of the resolution states that “detailed attorney’s invoices should be made available to the Township Counsel, prior to or upon a request that the Township Council take action on any attorney’s invoice.”
“I, and other members of the Council, have made numerous requests to review the legal bills in an effort to ensure that the taxpayer’s money was not being wasted on frivolous litigation and personal agenda items directed by the Mayor and his administration. Each time these requests were made, they were derailed at the hands of the Township attorney,” said Nelson. “When requested, I, along with other member of the Township Council have been continuously denied access to unredacted legal bills from Mr. Inglesino’s firm under the guise of attorney-client privilege. My question to Mr. Barberio is this: Who is the client? If not the governing body duly elected by the residents of our town, then who? Government does not operate in a vacuum. Mr. Barberio ran on a platform for greater transparency in government, but all he has done was erect a stone wall of secrecy. Furthermore, I have been retaliated against by being told I cannot discuss such matters with department heads. Many residents have also requested how this Mayor is spending legal fees, and have received the same results as I have.”
Current council candidate Louis Valori said that “it’s a wonderful bill that’s long overdue and the intent is to have transparency for all the taxpayers and residents of Parsippany and the state of New Jersey.”
Former legislative aide to the late Alex DeCroce, Valori said this bill is particularly important to him because township transparency is one of the priorities on his campaign platform.
“The taxpayers should know that their money is being spent wisely and they’re aware of the all the expenditures that are taking place in the town,” said Valori. “This is a bill that will benefit everyone in town. There are a lot of people who are struggling to live day by day and we owe it to them to let them know that we’re spending their taxpayer money responsibly.”
The resolution states that “taxpayers pay for all contracted legal services provided to municipalities and each bill should be scrutinized to make sure the charges are fair, accurate and can be substantiated and the “Transparency in Government Legal Bill Act” requires that the elements that must be included in an invoice and ensures taxpayers are only paying for services that can be documented just as any client is entitled to before remitting payment.”