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."