After approving 11 firms of special counsel in the summer, Union City officials okayed raises for just two firms at the end of last year: one where Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla serves as of counsel and another for a former Hudson County Superior Court judge.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
Back on August 8th, 2018, the Union City Board of Commissioners unanimously approved (5-0) a resolution awarding 11 special counsel contracts to be paid at a rate of $150 per hour, not to exceed $20,000 during the 2018-2019 fiscal year, the resolution says.
Those approved special counsel contracts, which were selected through a request for proposals process, were Gregory T. Farmer; Barry P. Sarkisian; Florio Kenny Raval, LLP; Chasan Lamparello Mallon & Capuzzo, PC; Dario, Albert, Metz & Eyerman, LLC; O’Toole Scrivio Fernandez Weiner Van Lieu; Genova Burns, Marotta & Garvey; Lavery, Selvaggi, Abromitis & Cohen, P.C.; Decoitiis Fitzpatrick & Cole, LLP; and Whipple Azzarello LLC.
Barry Sarkisian, whose law office is in Jersey City, is a former Hudson County Superior Court judge who went back into private practice last year.
Furthermore, Lavery, Selvaggi, Abromitis & Cohen, D.C. is the firm where Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla, a political ally of state Senator (D-33)/Union City Mayor Brian Stack, serves as of counsel.
The $20,000 contracts given to the aforementioned law firms/attorneys are small by municipal government standards, just slightly over the $17,500 threshold that necessitates a public bidding process.
However, on November 27th, the Union City Board of Commissioners approved a $60,000 increase for Sarkisian to compensate “additional work to be provided for Special Counsel services” between July 1st, 2018 and June 30th, 2019, according to a copy of the contract.
In a similar vein, Lavery, Selvaggi, Abromitis & Cohen, D.C. received a $50,000 raise for annual special counsel services at the same meeting, their contract says.
Both contracts were obtained through an Open Public Records Act request with the Union City Clerk’s Office.
“If the length or complexity of an assignment warrants an increase, we have to increase the contract to accommodate the work load,” a Union City spokeswoman said, also indicating that LSAC was working on “tenant advocacy and receivership matters.”
Back in February when Bhalla revealed that he would be serving as of counsel for LSAC, he released a copy of his contract, which said, in part, that he would receive “20 percent of all gross revenue paid by clients in excess of $60,000 up to $750,000.”
Then in June, Bhalla released a memo indicating that he had not earned any money in commissions since joining the new firm. He has not released a public update since then and his critics on the city council haven’t pressed him much on the subject, either.
According to Hoboken spokesman Vijay Chaudhuri, the mayor did not play any role in negotiating the contract with LSAC, so therefore he will not be receiving a commission, nor will he be providing any legal services for Union City.
Several Union City and Hoboken officials declined to comment, but Hoboken 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher questioned if politics were in play here.
“A coincidence? Or maybe something as ‘apolitical’ as the Mayor needing to generate revenues by year end to justify his $60K base salary at his second job and Union City helped him out. It’s why we ask questions,” she said in an email.
“It’s pathetic that Tiffanie Fisher has nothing better to do than criticize the mayor and sabotage his office. She should find better things to do with her time, like working for residents,” Chaudhuri responded.
Additionally, Bhalla supported Stack to be chair of the Hudson County Democratic Organization back in June, though the North Hudson power broker came up short against Amy DeGise, the daughter of Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise.