Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Watching the money

While much is being reported and discussed about Birdsall Engineering, the firm found guilty of campaign contribution violations, another costly and equally distasteful situation has been brought to light.

The NJ State Comptroller has just issued a report summing up its investigation into the millions of dollars paid in legal fees by local governments and school districts.

The escalating amount of legal work being done by outside law firms on behalf of the city of Trenton has not gone unnoticed.

We can all remember how the large and politically connected law firm of Cooper Levinson "withdrew" from their contract to provide outside legal counsel to the city of Trenton. The withdrawal came after it was revealed that the firm received work with the city after contributing to Political Action Committee that in turn made a matching contribution to Mayor Tony Mack's campaign.

There was also Andrew Weber, formerly of Cooper Levenson and recently with the Mt. Holly law firm of Riley and Riley, one of the many Acting Business Administrators appointed by Mayor Mack. Weber held the seat until it became known that the Riley and Riley firm was seeking a contract with the city.

It is not just these close ties between elected officials and campaign contributors/supporters that is worrisome. Just who is keeping tabs on the billings and payments to all these law firms for all the work they are doing on behalf of the city? How do we know we aren't being overcharged?

The report from the State Comptroller shows quite plainly, how easily local government units lose control or track of their legal expenses.

The report offers some "best practices" ideas that we encourage Trenton's city government to adopt.

  1. Developing policies and procedures regarding the procurement, use and management of legal counsel
  2. Conducting a competitive procurement for legal counsel
  3. Drafting formal, written contracts with legal counsel
  4. Managing those contracts.

Let’s hope the administration gets good legal counsel on this matter. And can keep itself out of trouble enough to reduce the excessive need for legal representation!


Unknown said...

This is serious stuff!

In the State report cited here, the Township of North Bergen's experience is described, along with this statement:

"We (the Office of the State Comptroller) have referred the matter of the In-House Attorney's employment at North Bergen to the State's Division of Criminal Justice to determine whether any criminal violations have been committed."

Thanks for drawing attention to this report. Trenton's Law Department has long been the location of a lot of foolishness. Time to take a close look.

Anonymous said...

Not surprised here. All you have to do is go to city hall and try and pay a bill and what you will see, at the simplistic level is that they have zero business model. Garbage in...garbage out at the expense of the tax payers! Trenton needs real oversight of all their business processes! There is nothing to build upon!