After a heated discussion during the Tuesday night council meeting over the resolution related to the Transparency in Government Legal Bill Act, the council went into executive session. They emerged with an amendment to the resolution that was passed.
The resolution was in support of Republican Assemblywoman Betty Lou DeCroce's Transparency in Government Legal Bill Act and was first introduced by Councilman and mayoral candidate Jonathan Nelson at the last council meeting. The amended resolution was passed unanimously with the exception of Councilman Michael diPierro, who was absent.
The resolution states that the Office of the State Comptroller has investigated and discovered that some local governments have failed to control excessive and improper payments for legal services, review legal bills and manage legal contracts in a way that looks out for taxpayers, so DeCroce introduced legislation requiring a detailed invoice for services rendered before payment is made.
Town Attorney John Inglesino said the “resolution conflicts with your charter as a municipality,” thus the amendments needed to be made.
“The reason why we’re amending that is because the council does in fact give the township CFO authority to pay the bills without council approval,” said Nelson.
“The substantive changes the invoices will be made to the council for review,” said Inglesino. “There will be a representative from the council and I recommend a liaison of some sort would be the liaison to the council to all vendor bills, which would include legal fees. I don’t have any objection to that. I’ve never had any objection to that, but safeguards need to be put in to place that council people are not put in compromised positions due to conflicts.”
The amended portion was the last Whereas, which now reads “it is also the sense of the township council that detailed attorney’s invoices should be made available to the Township Council, or to appointed representative of the council …” The original did not have the words ‘or to appointed representative of the council.’
The other amended portion now reads “The Township of Parsippany-Troy Hills calls upon the New Jersey Legilsature and its elected representative, Betty Lou DeCroce, to amend the “Transparancy in Government Legal Bill Act” piror to passage, to require that detailed attorney’s invoces should be made available to the Township Council, upon request.” The original included these words at the end: ‘that the Township Council take action on any attorney’s invoice.’
At the beginning of the discussion, Councilman Vincent Ferrara said that he had questions about the legality of the resolution and didn’t “feel comfortable voting.”
Inglesino explained that this is “a resolution that supports (Assemblywoman Betty Lou DeCroce)’s transparency act. I would note that we follow every aspect of” DeCroce’s bill. We are, my office, is as transparent as we are permitted to be under the attorney-client privilege constraints that govern my profession. We conform our bills to the very latest in OPRA requirements … Anyone can OPRA our invoices … and they itemize not only the date, they itemize each entry , the hours, the amount of time, the lawyer who worked on the file in create detail.”
Inglesino added that he brought a sample copy of a bill to the meeting for the public to review.
Nelson asked Inglesino “What does this have anything to do with this resolution?”
“You’re relaying that you’re already abide by Assemblywoman DeCroce’s recommendations,” said Nelson. “This resolution is just affirming that, but is taking it a step further, which (allows) town council to get itemized, unredacted bills if so requested. This has nothing to do with the people putting in an OPRA request or getting an unredacted, itemized bill.”
Inglesino said that he “had not received a request from the council. What we have received late last week from Councilman Nelson via the clerk’s office, … which I believe is the first time I received that request from Councilman Nelson, was a request that I was wasn’t sure exactly what he wanted. He has never spoken to me about it and I also received in the last couple of weeks, a similar request from Councilman Carifi.”
“Neither councilmen have spoken to me what they are looking for,” said Inglesino, adding that his recommendation to the council as a whole is that “we should discuss this issue in closed session because there is some legal advice I would like to provide to the council. I’m certainly not standing in the way of the council as a whole from obtaining information, but I do have a duty to safeguard, on behalf of the township, the attorney-client privilege information that could be—if it is in the hands of the people who are adverse to the township—detrimental to the township’s interests.”
Inglesino said that that he can talk to council president Brian Stanton about it or talk to the council as a whole, but “I don’t think it’s a conversation that is appropriate for open session … I don’t represent any council member individually. I represent the township, so I take direction … from the council as a whole. I think there is a question on whether or not your resolution conflicts with your charter as a municipality.”
Mayor James Barberio chimed in, “it does conflict with the charter.”
Councilman Paul Carifi responded to Inglesino’s statement that he received a request for information from Carifi a “couple of weeks ago.”
“I requested an itemized billing list … two months ago. I then two weeks later received a response from the administration that I would be getting it. Then I received an email that I would not be getting it, that I was not entitled to it as a councilman, which I feel, as an elected official of the people of Parsippany, they deserve to know where their money is being spent,” said Carifi.
He continued, “when I then requested in writing that … the administration was not going to give it to me, then all of a sudden, (you said), ‘Well, if I knew what you wanted it for, maybe we can get it for you or help you out.’ I said, ‘I’d like to either have it or not have it and have it to me in writing that you are not going to give it to me or that you are going to give it to me.”
Carifi added that he knew there would be a conflict of interest because of the litigation with his brother, but “made it perfectly clear that you can redact anything having to do with my brother, but anything else, every expenditure in this town, I want to see an unredacted, itemized billing list … What are we hiding here?”
Barberio spoke up and asked Nelson, “Do you know what 1,400 means?”
“I have concerns over you seeing these bills. I’ve been (told) that you’ve been promised 1,400 absentee votes … Mr. Carifi never said it to me, but a councilman said that you said it to him. All of a sudden we have a closed session meeting and you hear the other day (that) you come in the next day snooping around to find information out. Now I … think you need to get that information to get it back to somebody. The bottom line is, that’s my concern.”
Nelson responded during Barberio’s statement that he didn’t know what Barberio was talking about and after Barberio spoke, he said, “the mayor is talking about things that have nothing to do with this resolution.”
“Yes it does,” Barberio said quickly back at Nelson.
“So you’re going to say that we’re not entitled to see an itemized billing list or the expenses at least on a political speculation on absentee votes?” asked Carifi.
Ferrara stepped in and said that he just wanted to hear what Inglesino had to say in closed session, so the council quickly went into closed session and returned with the amended resolution, which was then passed.