The law firm that served the township under a previous Democratic administration is back in the mix, and its return has ruffled some feathers on the Republican side of the aisle.
The firm of Starkey, Kelly, Kenneally, Cunningham and Turnbach, which held the township's legal professional services contract under the administration of former mayor Joseph C. Scarpelli, began working on assignments for the township council Jan. 2, according to a copy of an invoice sent to the township's purchasing agent.
The firm was approved as part of the township's alternate legal services pool in January.
A copy of the bill, obtained by Brick Patch through an Open Public Records Act request, indicates the firm performed 63 hours of work during the month of January, producing a $10,602 bill.
There is some dispute between party members over the role of the firm, which is closely aligned with county Democrats.
Council President John Ducey, a Democrat, has said the firm of Gilmore and Monahan, the official township attorney, approved the legal work, a view that is not shared by Mayor Stephen C. Acropolis and at least one township council member.
"George Gilmore was not aware of that bill," Acropolis said.
Gilmore's firm is closely aligned with county Republicans, with George Gilmore serving as the county Republican chairman. Jean Cipriani, a member of the Gilmore firm, represents the township in most matters.
"When we got the bill, nobody knew about it," Acropolis said. "Not the purchasing agent, not myself, and certainly not George Gilmore."
But Ducey said otherwise.
"All legal work goes through George Gilmore," Ducey said. "He approved the legal work and the bill."
The bill indicates members of the Starkey firm had been in contact with Gilmore and Monahan as early as Jan. 2. That day, attorneys from the firm discussed "various issues" with Gilmore's office, billing records show.
But regardless of the billing issue, the use of a separate attorney by only the Democratic members of the council has left GOP Councilman Joseph Sangiovanni with some questions.
"It's too loose for me," said Sangiovanni, who said he was not told about the decision to bring in Starkey's firm. "It has nothing to do with Mr. Starkey, he's a fine attorney, but we have a township attorney. What's to prevent me from going out tomorrow and bringing someone else to the meeting?"
The records show Starkey's firm, on Jan. 2, drafted a mayoral salary ordinance, reviewed a legal opinion already rendered from the township attorney on the for Traders Cove and reviewed resolutions on the council's agenda.
As the month went on, records show, attorney Kevin N. Starkey of the firm reviewed health benefits issues, researched the township's authority to oversee municipal utilities authority compensation, reviewed meeting rules as well as appointments to boards and the "appointment process for municipal personnel," among other issues.
Starkey also looked into the Foodtown lot matter.
A copy of the invoice is attached to this story.
At no point does the bill reference phone calls or meetings with elected officials other than Ducey and Councilwoman Susan Lydecker.
Ducey said the council's hiring of a separate attorney is not unusual. The former all-Republican council hired the firm of Robert Shea & Associates last year, he said.
But Acropolis said the hiring of that firm was done only after the administration and the official township attorney had been contacted, and its activities were limited to redevelopment projects.
Ducey also said Republicans once hired Gilmore's firm to work on certain issues when they had a council majority during Scarpelli's administration.
Acropolis admitted the obvious alignment of Gilmore's firm to the Republican administration, but criticized Democrats for giving business to an additional, Democratically-aligned attorney after what he saw as their campaigning against such practices during last fall's council election.
"This is nothing more than rewarding, on both sides of the aisle, the people who put you in office," Acropolis said.
Acropolis said the township will pay Starkey's bill, which covered work between Jan. 2 and Jan. 31.