Wednesday, August 22, 2012

CORPORATION COUNSEL MATTERS.

One should give credit where credit is due. Although I had many questions about the 13 Resolutions offered by the “Corporation Counsel”; the duration of the contracts was not one of them.

Credit goes to Bernice Paglia for noticing that this Council was committing money up to June 30, 2013. Budget expenditures can be for only that budget year.

On Jan1, 2012 Plainfield had changed from a fiscal July1-June 30 fiscal year to a calendar year budget. Whoever wrote the resolutions and whoever signed the resolution must not have been appraised of such a change. Once again the lack of responsible qualified financial officers has resulted in an error.

I did have a question for clarification’s sake about the “not to exceed amount of $x.00 in each resolution. Since lawyers traditionally charge fee for service based on time down to the 15 minute unit this $5,000.00 (example) could have represented a retainer fee or a total pay able fee for services rendered by contract.

My assumption was that it reflected neither but was a base pool from which the attorney would be paid. If his services ran over that amount then a request would have to be made to the Council to pay additional bills.

There is a problem in the awarding of professional contracts by the “open and fair’ process of approved vendors. The lowest hourly rate is not determined by bidding.

On that subject, not having seen the support contracts, what is the hourly rate paid various attorneys including the City Solicitor who serve the City?

Why has not the Corporation Council position been filled? Is it because Williamson occupied it as a full time employee? When (was) an Ordinance was passed creating such a position? Was it in the McWilliams’ administration? Or, did the full time status just evolved?

It can be seen by reading the City Charter and Administrative Codes that the present Plainfield Municipal Legal Department differs from that in the Code and Charter;

Sec. 2:4-1. Corporation Counsel.

(a) As provided by Charter, Section 4.7, there shall be a Corporation Counsel, who shall be appointed by the Mayor with the advice and consent of the Council. S/he shall serve during the term of office of the Mayor appointing him/her and until the appointment and qualification of his/her successor.

(b) The Mayor, in his discretion, may remove the Corporation Counsel whenever the Mayor deems that the public interest so requires. Such removal shall take effect twenty (20) days after the Mayor files notices of removal with the Clerk and makes service on the individual by personal service or certified mail, return receipt requested to the individual's last known address. Unless prior thereto the Council shall at a regular or special meeting disapprove of such removal by resolution adopted by the affirmative vote of two-thirds (2/3) of the entire membership. In the event of such resolution of disapproval, the Corporation Counsel shall be restored to his/her office without loss of pay.

(A.C. 1969, 4.1, as amended by MC 1998-01, § 1, January 28, 1998.)

Sec. 2:4-2. Corporation Counsel; powers and duties.

The Corporation Counsel shall be the chief legal advisor to the Mayor and to the Council. He/she shall be compensated with a fixed annual salary as established by ordinance. He/she shall be, subject to the provisions of Sections 2:4-3, 2:4-4 and 2:4-5, prosecute and defend all legal or equitable actions or proceedings in any court in which the City or any office thereof may be a party. He/she shall draft ordinance, resolutions, legislative bills and other documents and agreements required by the Mayor or a member of the Council. He/she shall advise the administrative departments, boards and commissions of the City other than the Planning Board and the Board of Adjustment (which are authorized and required to appoint separate counsel) as to all legal matters within their jurisdiction.

(A.C. 1969, 4.2, as amended by MC 1998-01, § 1, January 28, 1998.)

Sec. 2:4-3. Assistant Corporation Counsels.

The Corporation Counsel may with the written approval of the Mayor and the advice and consent of the Council, appoint bond counsel, and two (2) Assistant Corporation Counsels, to serve at his/her pleasure. The first assistant shall be designated as City Solicitor and the second assistant as City Prosecutor. In the event of the temporary absence or inability of the Corporation Counsel to act, the City Solicitor may serve temporarily in his/her place and stead.

(A.C. 1969, 4.3, as amended May 5, 1969; MC 1998-01, § 1, January 28, 1998.)

Sec. 2:4-4. City Solicitor.

The Assistant Corporation Counsel designated City Solicitor, under the direction and supervision of the Corporation Counsel, shall, subject to the approval of the Council, represent the City in litigation before all courts, boards and commissions in trials, hearings and appeals. He/she may appeal any action or proceedings in which a judgment has been rendered adverse to the City, subject to the approval of the Council.

What is described is far different from the actual stable of lawyers representing the City. When has our Corporation Counsel actually participated in a court case? What are our annual legal costs?

I will grant that we should not expect a generalist such as one holding a Corporation Counsel office to be an expert in all phases of legal matters; but if the Corporation Counsel is full time and has no outside commitments do we need this number of attorneys?

If the Council can not address this to the satisfaction of the public; I hope it will be a subject for the Charter Review Committee.

I would not expect an opinion from Corporation Counsel; but since Plainfield’s Charter predates the Faulkner Act Charters it should not be bound by the provisions of that act in revising its Charter. I contend that alterations to our Charter can be by Ordinance with State approval.

If this is true the Council could and should immediately act to have its independent Counsel. (More later)

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