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Councilman Proposes Township Department of Law

Jonathan Nelson says making the town attorney an in-house, part-time position will save the township thousands of dollars.

Parsippany's newest Township Council member Jonathan Nelson wants the town to reconsider the way it handles legal issues.

Nelson has drafted an ordinance proposal to bring the town's lawyer under the Town Hall umbrella and to establish a Department of Law, aka the Office of Township Attorney, that he said will be introduced at Tuesday's council agenda meeting. He told Patch he hopes to open discussion on an idea that he said would save the town money, make life easier for township department heads and boost government transparency.

An early draft of the proposal lays out the idea: setting up a department at Town Hall that would be headed by an in-house lawyer appointed by the mayor with the advice and consent of the Township Council. The appointment term would cover the length of the mayor's term in office.

Nelson said that as he envisions the plan, which he said is open for negotiation and alteration, the attorney would be a part-time pursuit and therefore ineligible for medical, dental or prescription benefit coverage or a pension.

He suggested that the law office be staffed with "full-time or part-time legal assistants and secretarial or clerical assistants as may be determined from time to time by the Township Counsel; provided, however, that budgetary limitations are not exceeded."

Duties of the counsel would include serving as legal advisor to the council, mayor, business administrator, department heads and all township boards, commissions and agencies save for the Planning Board and Board of Adjustment, which have their own legal counsel. The town's lawyer would also attend council meetings, examine and approve bonds and documents, represent the township in matters of litigation and more.

The attorney and her or his staff would be compensated in accordance with the most recent Parsippany-Troy Hills Township salary ordinance, Nelson added.

Current Town Attorney John Inglesino of the firm Inglesino, Pearlman, Wyciskala & Taylor, LLC, presently is paid an annual retainer of $21,500 for attending council meetings and offering legal advice, according to Business Administrator Jasmine Lim. She said he also receives $150 per hour "for legal services" and $220 per hour if said services involve matters requiring public finance expertise.

"I strongly believe that it would save the township several hundred thousand dollars a year," said the councilman. "It would also give the administration, clerk's office, and certain department heads more accessibility if we had an in-house legal department.  

"I don't want the administration or clerk's office to have to worry in the backs of their minds about how much any given phone call or email correspondence would cost the township," he continued. "There would also be a much more transparency during budget season as to how much legal fees will cost year to year."

Nelson, the lone Democrat on the Town Council, said the idea is not intended to remove current Township Attorney John Inglesino, the mayor's appointment, from the role.

"My proposal is not [a criticism] of Mr. Inglesino or the quality of work of his firm," he said. "The only difference would be how he is compensated.

Nelson's council colleague Paul Carifi told Patch that he talked of a similar idea last year, however, this is the first time action is being taken within the body to turn the proposal into reality.

"I was elected to explore new ways to find innovation and cost savings
for the township and to take action," Nelson explained. "I hope this is a good first step in fulfilling that promise.  If the council ultimately decides to not fix something
because [they believe it] isn't broken, that's okay.  

"At least I can say I tried."

PeoplesChamp January 28, 2013 at 07:08 PM
Whether the proposal would realize cost savings in the end, you have to hand it to Councilman Nelson for taking affirmative steps and putting forth new proposals in an effort to help Parsippany. From what I've been reading while out of town for the past few months, he has been contributing fresh ideas with the interests of the town in mind. Keep up the great work, Jonathan.
Hank Heller January 28, 2013 at 09:12 PM
I am respectful of Mr. Nelson's thinking on this issue. It certainly deserves to be discussed openly and fully. We need more positive and critical thinking on the taxpayer's behalf. Thank you, Mr. Nelson.
Chris January 28, 2013 at 09:18 PM
Is the Department of Law going to support the BOE, too? I see in another article that they have their own lawyer, Mark Tabakin. I don't think there is any need to be paying for lawyers for the town and then also lawyers for the BOE. I wonder where else legal services are used? Maybe alll of these separate services can be joined together under one legal dept.
Par4theCourse January 28, 2013 at 09:32 PM
I second that commentary. Kudos to Mr. Nelson.
Monica Sclafani January 29, 2013 at 12:05 AM
Chris - that would be a great idea, but I don't think that an in house lawyer could handle municipal and education law due to the complexities of both. Worth asking about though!
Bob Crawford January 29, 2013 at 02:41 AM
Jonathan Thank you for taking the time and making the effort to delve into an issue that is important to all Parsippany residents. Spending our tax dollars efficiently and intelligently is certainly an approach that one would hope would be free of partisan politics. Hopefully your colleagues on the Council will understand that talk is cheap while action can and will speak volumes next November. Thanks for leading the way on this issue and please know that we will watch carefully to see who joins you and becomes an active advocate of what is best for all of Parsippany's residents. The days of checking in with the bosses and then going silent are over. Parsippany deserves and will have better leadership because the majority will no longer be silenced.
emptycup January 29, 2013 at 11:55 AM
John Nelson is a funny little man. Is he looking to hire someone straight out of law school with no experience or someone who damands big cash for their years of knowledge and experience? "Duties of the counsel would include serving as legal advisor to the council, mayor, business administrator, department heads and all township boards, commissions and agencies save for the Planning Board and Board of Adjustment, which have their own legal counsel. The town's lawyer would also attend council meetings, examine and approve bonds and documents, represent the township in matters of litigation and more." Now I realize that Nelson would be able to do all this on his own in the hours of PART TIME, but most would not be able to. So now that he is looking to create this new title, hire a lawyer, legal and secretarial assistants, where would this big savings come from? Full time assistants would receive health benefits and pension.
Richard January 29, 2013 at 12:30 PM
If you no longer have politically appointed town attorney, planning board attorney, zoning board attorney, two prosecutors, two public defenders, bond counsel, environmental counsel, special counsel, attorney for each of the six fire districts, library board attorney, health board attorney, who will fund the politicos campaign coffers?
Scott Dean January 29, 2013 at 12:38 PM
I dare say this, If we were to eliminate all the behavior in which lawsuits have been filed against the town, wouldnt that make the current position a part time one? Im reminded of the Howdy Doody Show. dont trip over the strings Mr.Nelson.
Carol M. January 29, 2013 at 02:22 PM
What I appreciate most about Mr Nelson and his ideas are that he approaches concerns as a matter of business and whats in the best interest of Parsippany and never with what appears to be a personal agenda, or with self promoting motivation. He seems sincere and is willing to have the conversations needed and does not seem to be seeking attention or playing the look at me, look at me game. I'm not too convinced that the savings are going to be realized once all the proper research is done but hopefully some serious number crunching will take place and what ever ends up being the most efficient, cost effective and practical will be the main deciding factors in the decision making process.
emptycup January 29, 2013 at 05:28 PM
I have also gone by the screen name sickofthetrolls but I am using this screen name now.
David Comora January 29, 2013 at 08:27 PM
Jonathan, sounds like a great idea. Does anyone know what we pay the the current attorney, above and beyond the retainer? I've heard that much of the town's cost for the original "Field of Dreams" proposal were legal fees.
Todd M. Finchler January 29, 2013 at 08:55 PM
The Township pays its part-time Municipal Prosecutors and its part-time Municipal Court Judge an annual salary. I believe the Prosecutors receive an hourly rate only in the event an appeal has to be defended, which is not common. (Traffic and disorderly persons offense appeals are handled by the Morris County Prosecutor. Only local ordinance violation appeals are defended by the local prosecutor.) The Township has never had an issue attracting qualified attorneys to the fixed salary positions for Prosecutor or Judge. I cannot say for sure - because it has not been attempted yet - but I suspect the Township would find qualified attorneys who would agree to serve as Township Counsel if they were paid a fixed salary for a fixed number of annual hours. Many on this board implore their local elected officials to think of creative, effective ways of reducing spending and taxes. I commend Councilman Nelson for raising this issue. I think it should be fully explored. One thing is for certain, cutting spending is not a partisan issue - it is something that every household, every small business and every government (large and small) should strive to attain.
Michael January 29, 2013 at 09:31 PM
I believe it was over $500,000 a year and that some previous attorneys cost over $600,000. You can file an OPRA request for exact numbers.
David Comora January 29, 2013 at 09:38 PM
Thanks Michael, it sounds like the town could save money, have more legal coverage and eliminate a political patronage job, all at once. What's the down side?
Mrs. K February 04, 2013 at 01:37 PM
Oh, oh!!!! I'm Paul Carifi and I thought of it first!!!!! And he took my sippy cup too!!!! Vote for me for Mayor!!!!! Cudos Mr. Nelson for thinking of tax payers first.

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