The city’s board of adjustment faced criticism on Wednesday night for hiring a $200 per hour attorney to force the city council to take action against three board members who have been boycotting meetings over alleged prejudice on the board.
Council president William McKoy described the board’s move to award an open-ended contract to Whippany-based attorney Carmine Campanile for $200 an hour as “unnecessary,” “unneeded,” and “egregious.”
“This is troubling on so many levels,” said McKoy. He pointed out council members have been wrestling with spending in city government at post-midnight meetings struggling to soften tax hits on overburdened homeowners.
McKoy asked the board’s chairman Gerald Thaxton where the money would come from to pay for the attorney.
“I don’t know the answer,” said Thaxton. He could not explain how the board would pay the attorney.
The board’s attorney Marco Laracca said the board of adjustment has a legal line item in its budget.
“This contract has no end in sight,” said Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large. He said the board of adjustment gave the attorney a blank check.
Campanile said the $200 per hour is actually the “discounted rate.” He also took the city to court when a dispute emerged between the mayor and the board of adjustment about the manner in which the planner on the board is obtained.
The mayor wanted to place one of the city’s employees at the post while the board wanted keep its contracted planner.
Domenick Stampone, the city’s law director, said the judge ruled in the board’s favor in that case. He said it goes back to the idea that the board of adjustment is a quasi-independent board.
Stampone suggested the board has the authority to hire professionals just as it hires its own planner. However, council members pointed out the city’s ordinance calls for the board to have a planner.
McKoy told the chairman of the board to “cease and desist.” He told Thaxton to put a cap on the contract.
“The taxpayers are fed up,” said McKoy. He also questioned the manner in which the contract was awarded.
Campanile said not much work has been done based on the resolution that was awarded. He said the most work he did since awarded the contract was sit through the three-hour long hearing yesterday night.
Campanile said he was contracted to force the council to take action against the three board members who have missed three or more consecutive meetings. The city’s ordinance states anyone who misses three or more meetings in a row may be removed from the board by the council.
When asked whether the board plans on following the council president’s recommendation, Thaxton said, “I’m going to have to speak to my attorney.”