The city’s school board put off awarding $600,000 worth of legal contracts to eight law firms – including some with political ties – last week.
Some school board members questioned the process the district used to select the firms. Many objected to the way the district awarded more than $400,000 worth of legal contracts in August to two politically connected firm that submitted unsolicited proposals.
“I never received any paperwork regarding the lawyers you have put before us. I never received a single piece of paper. I never saw a resume. I never saw a contract. I never saw a scope of work,” said longtime school board member Jonathan Hodges on Thursday night.
Hodges said the experience in the summer raised a “lot of unsavory questions.” He had been unaware the district had awarded the contracts through unsolicited proposals until he read it in newspapers.
“All I am asking is to put in place a documented procedure,” said Hodges. He was joined by newly elected school board member Eddy Olivares.
Olivares said he found the process “troubling.” He said the district provided very little information about the firms and their qualifications.
“I have to question if we have chosen the best firms to represent the people of Paterson. This is what we were sent here to do,” said Olivares.
The firms receiving the largest awards — Inglesino, Webster, Wyciskala & Taylor; and Hunt, Hamlin & Ridley – have deep local political connections.
Elnardo Webster, a partner at the Inglesino, Webster, Wyciskala & Taylor, has held fundraisers for assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, who wields enormous influence over some board members. For example, Wimberly actively campaigned and endorsed board members Oshin Castillo, Nakima Redmon, and Manny Martinez.
The city’s business administrator Vaughn McKoy serves as “of counsel” at the Inglesino, Webster, Wyciskala & Taylor firm.
Wimberly is also close to Kenyatta Stewart, a partner at the Hunt, Hamlin & Ridley firm. Stewart, like Wimberly, endorsed the same three board members.
A third firm Abdelhadi and Associates is owned by municipal judge Abdelmajid “John” Abdelhadi. He was appointed to the Paterson Municipal Court by ex-mayor Jose “Joey” Torres.
The firms that were slated to get the contracts were:
- $50,000 Florio, Perrucci, Steinhardt, and Fader
- $25,000 Abdelhadi and Associates
- $Unspecified amount DeYoe, Heissenbuttel & Buglione
- $40,000 McManimon, Scotland and Baumann
- $50,000 Apruzzese McDermott Mastro & Murphy
- $200,000 Inglesino, Webster, Wyciskala & Taylor
- $200,000 for Hunt, Hamlin, Webster, and Ridley
- And $35,000 Scarinci Hollenbeck.
The list of eight firms prompted school board member Emanuel Capers to ask why is the district hiring so many law firms after stating last school year the number of firms would be reduced.
“Why’s this coming back?” said Capers. He never received a straight answer from the district administration.
The firms would handle civil cases, insurance litigation, workers compensation, real estate, and contracts.
Hodges said he wants the district to advertise and request proposals prior to hiring firms.
School board president Castillo wanted her colleagues to take a vote on the contracts on Thursday. She told her colleagues they can abstain from voting. Her suggestion to take an up and down vote only strengthened opposition to awarding the contracts.
Board members Joel Ramirez and Kenneth Simmons began to raise questions. Simmons suggested a new process be established later in the month.
Robert Murray, the district chief counsel, said it would take several weeks to advertise, request proposals, and review firms. He told the board the district has plenty of time since the contracts are for next school year — contracts run from Jul. 1, 2019 through Jun. 30, 2020.
Murray obtained the board’s permission to notify the eight firms about the new process and tell them to submit proposals.