Majority of Council Will Seek Legal Counsel to Deal With Petition Mess

The majority of Montclair’s town council — Renee Baskerville, Rich Murnick, Cary Africk and Roger Terry — will seek legal counsel to review statutes regarding the petition and see what further action is warranted. Says Cary Africk, “We have an obligation to residents we represent not to just lay down and be run over.”

Africk says of the statutes: “There is still a lot of confusion — obviously we represent the majority of council and the residents of the town and we want to do what we were elected to do. I’m frustrated because there is important business that needs to be addressed now. There is a study group in place and we can wait for their report. There is no rush.

When asked if he or others in the majority of council knew about the mistake regarding the petition numbers and withheld the information from town clerk Linda Wanat, Africk says “That’s absolutely untrue. It was news to me and the fact that their was a mistake made wasn’t generally known until Thursday.” Africks adds “The number is not a secret. Ira (Karasick) knew the correct number and was surprised the petitioners had been using the wrong number. I wondered why didn’t [Jerry] Fried double check on this before he submitted it?”

“Nobody set this up and furthermore to suggest any of us were waiting for the eleventh hour — who knows what the eleventh hour is when everything keeps changing,” says Africk, who adds in reference to this Montclair Times column, “even gossip columns should have standards.”

When asked if he was concerned about a conflict of interest regarding town attorney Ira Karasick discussing issues regarding the petition with Mayor Fried, Africk didn’t suggest there was, adding of Karasick, “He can give his opinion as to what the statutes are, but he is representing the clerk and can advise Wanat as to what she should do.”

Renee Baskerville has told the Montclair Times she believes there is a conflict of interest.

Notice of a special meeting went out today at noon. The meeting will be held Saturday, at 9 a.m. at 205 Claremont, in the first floor councol chambers. The discussion:

RETAINING INDEPENDENT, SPECIAL LEGAL COUNSEL TO ADVISE THE COUNCIL IN THE MATTER OF AN INITIATIVE PETITION TO CHANGE THE DATE FOR MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS IN MONTCLAIR

* Official action may be taken.
This Special Meeting was called pursuant to the provisions of the Open Public Meetings Law. Notices of this meeting were sent to The Montclair Times and The Star Ledger on September 14, 2011. In addition, copies of notices were posted on the bulletin board in the Municipal Building and filed in the office of the Municipal Clerk on aforementioned date. Notices on the bulletin board have remained continuously posted. Pursuant to the provisions of the Open Public Meetings Law, a potion of the meeting will be set aside for public comment.

By Order of the Montclair Township Council
Linda S. Wanat, Municipal Clerk
September 14, 2011

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30 COMMENTS

  1. “Township Attorney Ira Karasick has said that he can’t advise certain council members on the matter as he’s already been counseling Fried as well as Township Clerk Linda Wanat on laws related to the referendum.”

    https://montclair.patch.com/articles/council-needs-outside-counselbut-not-more-lawsuits

    The Law:

    “The Township Attorney shall be in charge of the Law Department. The Township Attorney shall have charge of all legal affairs of the township government and of the various boards or other official bodies connected therewith.”

    Fried, in the petition matter, is NOT acting in any official capacity. He is acting as citizen Fried in filing the petition to CONTRAVENE the official position of the township. How is it that, in doing so, he’s entitled to use the township’s attorney? The Township Attorney is to represent the township’s legal interests NOT those of a private citizen. He is not the Mayor’s attorney or the Clerk’s attorney he’s the TOWNSHIP’S Attorney. That’s why we tax-payers pay his salary and expenses (to great expense, I might add). His statutory job is to represent the interest of the people as expressed through our collective town government. He should only be representing officials and officers engaged in offical township business. Because (as reported) he’s working with Fried, we taxpayers are now in the position of paying for an attorney OPPOSED to the will of we taxpayers as expressed in our local government. It seems to me we are paying the legal bills of the township’s opposition. In my opinion this is outrageous and un-ethical, and I wonder if its even legal?

    Outside counsel for the township should immediately be hired. The township attorney should immediately be suspended from all township business until this obvious conflict of interest is rectified. Also whatever legal costs, expenses and attorney fees incurred while the Township Attorney was conducting business at the behest of citizen Fried and thus not in the interest of the township should not be paid by the tax payer but by Fried and/or the group of petitioners.

  2. From Patch (sorry Deb and Liz):

    “Township Attorney Ira Karasick has said that he can’t advise certain council members on the matter as he’s already been counseling Fried as well as Township Clerk Linda Wanat on laws related to the referendum.”

    Would someone please explain this? How can the township attorney advise Fried as a private citizen, then tell the council he cannot advise them as the township attorney because he is already advising the mayor on an initiative he began as a private citizen?
    WTF is going on here and why is so important to get this on the ballot this year? I guess he wants to be sure that if it passes, it’ll happen during a presidential election year, rather than just any November. I just don’t see how this issue can override all the other problems the council has to tackle right now. How about instead of all this time an energy and now money, you just sent absentee ballots to everyone in town making it easy for all those people who don’t have the “time” to show up in May?

  3. Right now Baskerville is making the conflict of interest claim, Cary is not (I updated story above). I’ve contacted Karasick to confirm whether he gave legal counsel to Fried in his capacity as petitioner.

  4. Thanks, Liz. This is truly surreal. This is local politics at it’s worst. It’s an attempted coups d’etat by a bunch of bearded old guys who have some kind of weird and undefined agenda to push.

  5. “Right now Baskerville is making the conflict of interest claim”

    That’s why we cited the Patch article, Liz.

    which says HE (Karasick) said he was advising Fried so therefore could not advise the council.

    Don’t ask him your softball question. Ask him a hard question. Like:

    “Did you say ‘you can’t advise certain council members on the matter because you’ve been counseling Fried as well as Township Clerk Linda Wanat on laws related to the referendum.”

    This will force him to either admit he said that or he will have to call Patch a liar, to which they can prove the quote and then you’ve got a story!

    Asking your softball will just allow him to issue a pat statement.

    ‘cmon, Liz.

  6. oh and then follow up with.

    “doesn’t that suggest a conflict of interest?”

    and

    “what was the precise nature of the advisement you gave Fried?”

    (he can’t dodge this as “attorney-client privilege” while simultaneously maintaining that they are not “attorney-client” can he?

  7. Thank ROC – I won’t be throwing softballs — but when you read this:

    Township Attorney Ira Karasick has said that he can’t advise certain council members on the matter as he’s already been counseling Fried as well as Township Clerk Linda Wanat on laws related to the referendum.

    There’s no attribution — Karasick has said this to whom? Patch? Renee? That’s the part of the article I found confusing.

  8. thus the reason to ask him if he said it. It pits him against patch.

    The only way he can wriggle out of it is to say Patch got it completely wrong. I imagine they’ll have something to say about that. And I don’t suspect they did get it wrong.

    (either way, good for Bnet)

  9. The Bluewavers could almost touch their small victory for the voters who are not “fringe”, and they got a little sloppy.

  10. I would like to hear an opinion from Alan Trembulak, who would know if Karasick has acted improperly. Perhaps you can call him Liz and get some information?

  11. the conflict of interest is a bit of a distraction from the central issue.

    ask Karasick how if the petition is certified on sept 20, can it be on the ballot Nov 8 with the statutory time line which is clearly in the laws? from certification the clerk cannot submit it to the voters unless the council does not act in 20 days, then a 10 day withdrawal period and then 40 days after that.

    All the council need do is to table the issue for the full 20 days and then it won’t qualify for the nov 8 ballot. It would then go on the may 2012 ballot.

  12. “the conflict of interest is a bit of a distraction from the central issue.”

    That is true, but it raises an entirely new issue[1]. Both should be followed.

    It’s probably not the Mayor’s fault that he sought advice he shouldn’t be given. Who’d expect him to understand issues like “conflict of interest”? After all, the entire idea of pushing the election date move in haste, such that the Mayor and his cohort will take an extra six months in office, is one huge conflict of interest.

    But the town council should be very aware of the issue and the potential for problems amidst council disagreements. This isn’t the first time there’s been disagreement between council members, and it won’t be the last.

    It’s shocking that he put himself – and us – in this position. If he recognizes that he’s done this – as appears to be the case if the Patch article is accurate – then I don’t understand why he hasn’t resigned to make room for an attorney that is not a part of this conflict.

    …Andrew

    [1] More, the “old issue” masked yet a previous issue: that of whether or not the election date should be moved. How many issues deep can this “circus” go?

  13. Old news, jerseygurl. It’s been here for ages. Question is when will they pack up and leave?

    POSTED BY jerseygurl | SEPTEMBER 14, 2011 @ 12:09 PM
    The circus has come to town.

  14. I really would like to hear the outside council’s interpretation of the count on days presented by ROC. I think it is pretty straight forward and that someone should call Fried, and the others from the county, to the mat to discuss how 1+1=2 (or whatever the number of days required are) can be misinterpreted.

  15. I might just set up a stand outside selling peanuts and popcorn. It could be used as a fundraiser to help offset the costs Fried is causing the town to incur by going against the will of the council as a whole. What other paraphernalia do they sell at the circus?

  16. Who is going to keep track of how much taxpayer $$$ is spent to retain counsel for the mayor’s pet project? I wonder if it will be more, less, or the same amount we racked up over the Ted Mattox debacle. (Remember him? Remember what a train wreck THAT council was?)

  17. Don’t worry about the cost of the extra attorneys. The Town will have plenty of money from all of the extra revenue generated from the South Park St. project. This is the best council ever!

Comments are closed.