Councilor at Large Peter Yacobellis

Updated with additional comment from Councilor Yacobellis

Montclair, NJ – Three residents made statements during public comment alleging that Councilor at Large Peter Yacobellis has a conflict of interest and should recuse himself from all votes, discussions and related communications connected to the Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment.

Montclair resident David Herron read from a New Jersey Local Government Ethics Law statute and then made this statement.

“It’s abundantly clear that you, Councilman Yacobellis, and your organization Out Montclair, receive monies, donations, financial support from individuals seeking to develop Lackawanna Plaza,” said Herron. “You have a direct conflict of interest. Therefore, you must recuse yourself from all communications concerning Lackawanna Plaza. That would include no emails, no posts, no updates, no speaking to your constituents, no discussion with fellow council members, no lobbying, no meeting with developers or their experts, nada.”

“Finally be advised, a formal complaint has been filed with the New Jersey Attorney General’s office concerning these very serious matters,” Herron added.

Martin Schwartz also spoke of an alleged conflict of interest, calling it troubling.

“Sir, your organization is soliciting monies from Mr. Placek. You’re collecting a salary from that organization. You were already warned on April 5th, 2022 by the township attorney that you had a conflict about the BID budget because monies were going through bid to Out [Montclair]. You abstained that night. You should have recused yourself. He read you the statute at that time. Now you’re seeking monies and getting a direct salary from the organization. You have a conflict of interest.”

At the April 5 meeting, acting Township Attorney Paul Burr said Yacobellis’ abstention to the Montclair Center BID budget vote was as effective as a recusal.

Anson Pope, who, along with Schwartz has been vocal in opposing the Lackawanna Plaza redevelopment plan, addressed Yacobellis during public comment.

“We attempted to meet with you and forestall this. You, under advisement of counsel, chose not to. It’s unfortunate that you’ve been put in this position. I watched the April 2022 meeting where you were involved in the vote to approve the bid budget, and Councilor Cummings did bring it up.

Following public comment, acting Township Attorney Paul Burr explained the statute 40A:9-22 of local government ethics law.

“If an elected official of a municipality is receiving contributions from an entity doing business in Montclair and an ordinance or resolution regarding that entity came to a vote, they should recuse themselves from the vote and from participation with that matter. Failure to do so could result in a grievance filed against them at the Division of Community Affairs,” said Burr. “One of more important impacts could be a resolution or ordinance adopted through their participation could be challenged in a court of law and could be overturned.”

Fourth Ward Councilor David Cummings pressed Burr on what steps the council should take.

Burr said that any council member should pay attention and do the ethical thing and recuse themselves, but that any specific discussion should take place during executive session.

Cummings then asked Yacobellis how he felt.

“Number one, I don’t answer to you,” Yacobellis told Cummings. “Number two, at the end of the day, the facts will be presented and everyone can look at the facts.”

Cummings asked for the allegation of conflict of interest to be added to executive session so it could be discussed.

Following executive session, Yacobellis made this statement on the record:

“It’s a lot to have one’s integrity questioned. And I guess that is something that comes with the territory. I don’t blame people for being cynical about government, especially given the last few years. And frankly, it’s why I decided to run in the first place, to be part of the change I wanted to see in the world. I take this job very seriously. I take ethics very seriously. I take conflicts of interest very seriously. And I consistently act with guidance from attorneys on any area that I feel is gray or questionable, to make sure that I’m doing everything, always coloring within the lines. I also think it’s very obvious, when we have a big project that we’re part of and that we’re influencing, it’s a very obvious, potential conflict of interest.

“And that is why, any financial records will show, I received no contributions from Mr. Placek to my political committee ever. And they’re not a supporter of Out Montclair either. Historically, yes, but not at all related to when I’ve had a paid position. Not even close. Out Montclair is an independent corporation and there’s a board of trustees. The organization will be putting out their own statement to clarify on behalf of the board and the organization, their position. I just thought that was important to say on the record.

“It’s really alarming to hear accusations, to have the names of other people that have nothing to do with these situations implicated. And I think it’s really the behavior by some who are frankly just opposed to this project from a political perspective and are politically motivated, to undermine the process and question credibility of individuals like myself. To question the character and integrity of people who work for nonprofit organizations and other professionals and everyday citizens in this town is really shameful and disgraceful. And it actually takes away from the really reasonable arguments that people are making, or how they feel about this project. So I just want to encourage that we elevate this discourse to a place where we’re talking about what’s really happening, what could really happen there, and what the impacts would be and that we just continue to go through this process. None of us have voted for Lackawanna Plaza. We voted to introduce a plan so that it would go through this process. This is not a foregone conclusion and why anybody thinks that it is, is beyond me. It’s really shameful to see some of the politically motivated behavior and I’m certainly not going to tolerate it. And I hope we can all move forward.”

Out Montclair Board of Trustees issued this statement Tuesday in response to claims made at the Montclair Township Council Meeting:

Out Montclair produces events and programming year-round that celebrate and elevate LGBTQIA+ people in and around our town, and we are proud to be joined in this mission by supporters across the entire community — individuals, families, volunteers, advisors, sponsors, vendors, venues, small businesses and Montclair institutions. We are extremely grateful to each and every one of these, who help us meet critical needs in our community and ensure that our programming is accessible to all, including LGBTQIA+ youth, families, and older people.

Our events and programs offer information and resources for LGBTQIA+ people, create and strengthen social connections, and celebrate the diversity, empathy, acceptance, and creative collaborative spirit that Montclair is known for. More than 14,000 people attended Montclair’s first-ever Pride celebration in June 2022 — a community-unifying day of undeniable joy. Events like these are visionary, necessary, and cost money to produce. We rely on the community to help us provide for and celebrate the community, and Montclair Pride 2022 in particular was made possible by the generous support of more than 120 sponsors and vendors.

In light of Out Montclair’s rapid growth, and in order to continue to produce and scale up high-quality programming to reach even more people in Montclair and surrounding towns, the organization’s Board of Trustees unanimously decided to hire Peter Yacobellis as Executive Director in November 2022. Peter previously served as President of Out Montclair on a volunteer basis since its founding in April 2021, and he has been essential to our success as an inclusive and visionary leader, skilled communicator, listener, organizer and doer. We support him fully in his role as our Executive Director.

As legal and financial stewards of Out Montclair, we on the Board of Trustees have always taken legal and ethical compliance matters very seriously. From the start, Out Montclair has maintained and observed a strong conflict of interest policy, and the organization operates scrupulously in accordance with federal and state laws concerning nonprofit organizations.

Out Montclair is committed to the highest ideals of community: diversity, respect for differences, safety, trust, inclusion and belonging. Our organization and leadership are united and steadfast in our mission to improve the lives of every LGBTQIA+ person and family in Montclair and its surrounding areas. All who share these values are welcome to join us, help us and contribute to our community’s success.

In an email following the meeting, Yacobellis sent this comment, refuting other accusations Schwartz made during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting regarding a fundraiser:

Once again former resident Martin Schwartz is lying and misleading the public. At no time has Mr. Alan Horwitz, associated with Lackawanna Plaza, hosted a fundraising event for me. Martin is potentially confusing this with a fundraiser hosted by my dear friend Susan Horowitz (different spelling) and her wife Irina, over a month ago at their home.

What I’ve learned about Mr. Schwartz over the years is he tends to just throw a bunch of stuff at the wall and on the rare occasion when something sticks, he uses that luck to claim credibility. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

I believe that the Mayor and Council did the right thing by not keeping Mr. Schwartz on the Planning Board. I also think we did the right thing by not creating an economic development position specifically for him, as he requested. I’m committed to only appointing and hiring honest, qualified, and level-headed people for important positions in our town government.

45 replies on “Montclair Councilor Refutes Conflict of Interest Allegations (UPDATED)”

  1. Being the president of a Board of an organization that solicits donations from a developer is itself, the trigger for a conflict of interest. That Councilor Yacobellis then sought to obtain a salary from that group, only makes it worse.

    Sadly, this has been brewing for too long. The conflict of interest statutes are setup just to prevent this kind of situation where an official believes they are operating in the public’s interest, but are really carrying water for a developer or provider. Peter Yacobellis was officially warned before in April, and ignored it. Today, it’s some of his own political supporters and Out Montclair Advisory Committee members whom he would not even meet with and listen to, that had to deliver the “good government” demand to stop, given his actions.

    To date, four municipal land use attorneys, all who have worked for Montclair, agree Councilor Yacobellis has a conflict of interest and never should have been working privately with the developer and his Lackawanna consultants.

    One of the major NJ. Appellate cases on this is actually here in Montclair. Where then Mayor Fried and 3rd Ward Councilor Lewis, were just elders of a church for a building next door they had to vote on for an “use” change. It caused the vote to be overturned, as the township attorney said last night, could also happen here if Peter did not recuse himself. See Count Four, page 8 on:

  2. You are right flipside, this town is so entertaining!

    Say it ain’t so – you moved out of town?

    The conflict argument in the case of the Montclair Center Management Corporation is not well-grounded legally. The Councilor’s role does not rise to a level of a financial conflict.

    I want to give the Township Attorney the benefit of the unusual, after the fact circumstances; and he started fine. However, he again overstepped and also misquoted the law he casually recited from.

    He doesn’t seem to be quick on his feet, nor play politics well.

    The Mr Heron did not provide any detail to his remarks, so we will have to wait for a copy of the grievance he filed. Mr Heron is not an unbiased principal here, so I am not relying on his word alone.

    But, what would a Montclair Council be without their own ethics brouhaha?

  3. You don’t want conflict issues to swallow the ability of elected officials to do what they were elected to do. It would have been good for Out Montclair to confirm that there were no donations from the developer after the council person was in a paid position, but they point out they received donations from 120 sponsors and vendors. I am sure the entity would accept even more. There has to be some rule of reason to keep the wheels turning so there aren’t conflicts everywhere. If the conflict rules suggest only people with out of town jobs can be on the council, it’s the rule and not the member’s vote that should be jettisoned.
    Now, if the developer was a major current donor sustaining the member’s paid position, there is a place for a council member to exercise judgment and recuse for all related matters. But that’s not the evidence presented here.

  4. weffiewo – you really do need to read the statute before commenting on needed “evidence” here on what you feel is required. You are just not correct. Even the appearance of a conflict can warrant recusal.

    Further, it’s not just the donor sustaining the member’s paid position. It’s if that member is even on the board of an organization that solicits and/obtains funding from that donor…while in a position to vote on something impacting the person. Whether the relationship is “direct” or “indirect”, as is specifically explained in one of the prior cases cited.

    The Montclair Grabowsky brief above in Count IV describes the multiple case law examples established to date with those particulars impacted. As well as the statutes themselves. I would urge a read.

  5. How can we expect good people to serve is this is what we’re going to do to them? I mean, who would want to serve in this climate?

    I’m sorry, but Peter Yacobellis works his butt off for this town. On top of that, he started a non profit organization, that by any measure and by the experience many of us have had is absolutely one of the best things to ever happen to this town. People want to sponsor events like Montclair Pride, because it’s freakin awesome and because they support the cause.

    Peter’s and the Out Montclair statement makes it clear that they’re following all of the rules and have good controls in place. That’s good enough for me.

    Hang in there, Peter. The community has your back!

  6. Wow, calling one of your constituents a liar, doesn’t help to reduce the discourse, does it? Councilman Yacobellis, it’s you who is just not being straight, now. As I remember it, you have previously supported Martin Schwartz”s efforts at economic development and grant seeking directives here in the past and have complimented his service on the planning board. When he was defending you and backing you up on town issues. He also was the first person to speak out about the size (height)of the MC hotel. His efforts directly helped generate a $5 million dollar grant for us to fix the traffic lights on Bloomfield Ave. Now that he has revealed something questionable about your official actions, you attack him personally. Sorry something doesn’t add up. Guess it”s true, politics,,,,,,, makes strange bedfellows.

  7. “You were already warned on April 5th, 2022 by the township attorney that you had a conflict about the BID budget because monies were going through bid to Out [Montclair].” – Martin Schwartz

    You should ask your 4 anonymous former attorneys that worked for us if they thought the Township Attorney’s remarks & conclusion were appropriate. It would be fascinating for the 4 Horseman to reveal themselves and comment under their names. Somehow, I doubt they will.

    I am going to constructively help the community’s discourse.

    1. The Montclair Center Corp is a public agency and has the same OPRA/OPMA requirements as the Township. The MCC has a money & email trail for those interested.

    2. The MCC Board of Directors owns the fiduciary ‘buck stops here’. They approve the annual budget, too. Councilors Cummings & Price-Abrams are voting Township Directors on the MCC Board.

    3. The MCC has their own written ethics/conflict of interest policy & requirements that each Director is trained on every year.

    4. The MCC By-Laws, section 8.03 Contributions: The Board of Directors may accept on behalf of the Corporation any contribution, gift, bequest or devise for the general purposes or for any special purpose of the Corporation followed by proper acknowledgment.

    5. And always the show stopper, the Township and the Montclair Center Corp, since its inception, never bothered to have a written agreement on who is responsible for what. Nothing. Nada. To me, it is more of “I’ll trade you some hanging planters for a French sidewalk sweeper and a bunch of BigBellys”.

    For myself, I would like to know what “monies” that were (are still?) going through the BID that everyone was talking about? I mean, someone will OPRA the MCC’s 2022 audit report when it is ready. Then we can start doing the money trails and benefit analysis to which organization and who has a decision-making role on them. Hopefully, it will cover the non-cash donations and such.

    I only ask that we back-burner this until after Montclair’s version of March Madness.

  8. I am a huge supporter of Peter and admittedly against the scale of this project, though not against redeveloping Lackawanna whatsoever. Heck, if these buildings were scaled down by maybe 25%, I would be cheerleading Placek’s efforts.

    Much like Yacobellis claims the conflict of interest is all politicking and his past track record should be considered as a gauge of his abilities to remove any bias from his performance on the council. It does not matter if he is sincere or not. Fried blew this same argument multiple times as mayor. The mere potential of putting yourself in a position where favor might have been bartered (proven or not) IS a conflict of interest in the courts. Go ask Mayor Spiller too about being an officer of the NJEA and serving on the BOSE. Regardless of how philanthropic these developers make themselves out to be, there is no way of telling if their donations were to help the receiver of them or to purchase future favor from them. Since there is no way of proving either intention, the conflict of interest exists.

    I am not quite sure what happens to formerly bright and well-intentioned leaders when it comes to these conflicts. It’s like they temporarily lose their ability to reason.

    An argument the supporters of the Lackawanna project often make is that the developer lives here, so why would he want to “ruin” his own locale? I would question this line of argument. Perhaps Placek is only building in his backyard because he does not have the connections to say, “ruin” West Orange. Connections he MIGHT have groomed through his local philanthropy.

    Peter, if you read this. Please recuse yourself from any further cheerleading for Placek. We all understand where you come from and you are doing little to garner further respect from all parties by claiming you are above being in the position of a conflict of interest. Learn from Spiller and Fried who both wrecked their reputations ignoring the obvious! Let the project speak for itself. Let the voters decide what is acceptable. Let the process work.

    Placek, do the right thing and scale back the project and your greed. No one is against development there. They just don’t need another area of Montclair looking like the corner of Flatbush & Atlantic. How much profit is really necessary?

  9. Please recuse yourself from any further cheerleading…???

    Why didn’t you just send each of them an email saying this?

    Is Attorney General a serious job in the State of NJ?

    Oh. umm. yes. sorry. slow today. Ok, ok. Spin? Right? Then he is guilty! Right?

  10. Wanted to share my thoughts publicly Frank. I’ve got nothing to hide. I thought of emailing both of them, but I think it plays better publicly.

  11. I keep getting Baristnet and the Babylon Bee mixed up. Montclair politics is the entertainment gift that keeps on giving. Frank, do have an estimate on how much the lawsuits, investigations, consultants, and whatever else is going to cost the taxpayers? Is there any word about when the Edgemont bridge will be completed? Will the pools be open this summer? Will the schools be upgraded? Will we ever move on from dealing with feelings and actually get something meaningful done in town?
    As far as conflicts of interest….move on, nothing to see here….spin, spin, spin,…anyone getting dizzy or is it just nausea?

  12. Regardless of what I think of the Councilor’s character or performance, the allegations are serious and go to his integrity. To characterize the issues as misplaced cheerleading is just weird.

    He has a right to a fair process and those that made the allegations have responsibility to do proper due diligence and substantiate their claims.

    Mr Schwartz claim, and the Township Attorney’s advice are non-starter because they don’t understand how the MMC is setup and the Townships oversight. I find this inexcusable. There is no conflict with monies that go through the MMC.

    Mr Heron’s claim was not substantiated during his remarks. I hope his submission to the AG provided the missing substantiation and is not a fishing expedition.

    My point is that the law offers only the option to recuse himself. Not to abstain. Abstain is not an option. He can not qualify his support.

    Recusal also means he can not participate in the EDC discussions on Lackawanna. Bottom line, is he can’t be half in and half out or pick and choose when or with whom to participate. Your suggestion amounts to saying he is kinda of conflicted and is poor, lose/lose advice.

  13. “Let the project speak for itself.”
    “Please recuse yourself from any further cheerleading”

    I think I spelled it out pretty clearly. The project will go on without him. He has nothing to gain. Yes, I don’t know exactly how it works. But I think that matters little here. This project will eventually pass a council vote, with or without Peter’s. The only thing left to determine are the details.

    I forgot what the exact issue was, but I recall there was a particular resolution that failed passage during the embarrassing Fried reign. He later tried to resurrect it through a referendum where Lewis, Weller-Demming, and Fried claimed they were acting as residents and not council members when they initiated the referendum. Do you remember what the issue was? Was it the potential purchase (and overpayment) for a Senior Center? Regardless, the court’s ruled that this wasn’t allowed. Though the real issue was their overreach of power. I get confused with Fried and Lewis’ attempt to have the town purchase part of their house of worship for the same reason. Of course, this wall before Fried tried to build what was pretty much a nursing home on Bloomfield Ave., in hopes that they would name the dining area after him.

    If there is one thing that is certain in Montclair. It’s that massive amounts of taxpayer dollars will continue to be wasted fighting unnecessary lawsuits brought about by council members who don’t know when to step away.

  14. Frank,

    Yes, of course he has the right to due process. Where he will lose, and we will be on the hook to pay for it. It’s good to work for the government.

  15. Stu,

    I don’t recall. Of course, I also don’t recall any uproar when the hotel was approved for 118′ height. I always recall how everyone wanted a 65,000 sf supermarket and had zero concerns about what traffic it would generate. Yes, everyone has now completed their virtue replenishment and are fortified in asking for a state-of-the-art supermarket twice the size of what was approved in 2018…and are worried, with a straight face, how the project will degrade quality of life and, yes, again, traffic. The long-time residents have more memories, but they are are on equal footing with the newer residents in that both are unable to see a horizon beyond 5 years out.

    The costs will become more apparent during Montclair’s March Madness. The law dept spent 500K in 2021. They were budgeted for 600K last year. The 2023 quarter-year temp budget has them at 200K. I think $700K is a realistic landing spot for 2023 overall…for what we have in process currently. I asked for a Master Litigation Plan, but no response. Settlements aren’t paid out of their budget. Rent Control administration is up to 200K. The MFD wants well-into 7-figure increase just for 2023 which will grow significantly within a matter of years if they get what they are asking for. The seniors want their fair share. Medical insurance increases are significant. Clary Anderson needs a million or so. The list goes on and on. But, I can’t put a price on the entertainment value we are getting in return.

  16. By the line of thinking on this thread, if anyone wants to engineer an outcome of a vote on the Council, just donate money to the organizations they work for or are on the Board for and you can take them out of the mix.

    Gosh people, look at your state legislators and your members of congress — look at the millions they rake in to their own campaign accounts from lobbyists and firms and then influence or vote on things that directly affect those clients (see Manchin and Build Back Better).

    Councilpersons all have full time jobs because we don’t pay them anything. Conflicts. They all live in Montclair and constantly vote on things that directly affect them. Conflicts.

    We need our local government to be able to function and honestly, all this looks like to me is a bunch of people who are opposed to Lackawanna Plaza, trying to take out a likely yes vote on the project in Yacobellis. Recuse himself and telegraph to everyone that all they need to do is create a big nothingburger and they can stop people from voting a way they don’t want them to?

    Let’s be smart about the bigger implications.

  17. I forgot to mention the library is asking for just a 14% increase…out of respect for the tight monetary times we are facing.

  18. I reviewed the video of both meetings and I think two things:

    First, Councilor Cummings should apologize to the public for his Tuesday’s performance and I have to question if he left his good sense and integrity at home. I am very disappointed in him and that he couldn’t find the high road after all that has transpired with this dysfunctional Council.

    Second, I think Councilor Yacobellis has grounds for legal action against the Township, not to mention against Mssrs Pope, Schwartz & Heron who gave us the trite dog & pony show on ethics. The media reporting I have read and the their remarks suggest 2 or all were acting in concert. Further, collective 9 minutes of comment time struck me as extremely efficient in each man covered different, but complementary ground in their prepared remarks. Then I’m seeing multiple retractions and walking back accusations reported in the media.

    I’ll tell you right now that Lackawanna Plaza is not going forward anytime soon. It’s dead for now because voters here have 4 representatives, a potential majority, they directly vote for. Councilor Yacobellis is an At-Large representative. If there is an attempt to silence one voice among the four elected representatives, this Council and its legal braintrust better think very long and very hard first.

    And don’t take this as me giving Councilor Yacobellis a pass. I am not. Personally, I think everyone should hire their own outside counsel. I think Mr Placek has lost much of the goodwill he invested so much to create.

  19. Frank,
    A very sobering take on the events. Jean O has a much more upbeat outlook. We tolerate our President, Senators, and Representatives being corrupt so why be concerned if our local politicians are in someone’s pocket. Come man, give me a break! Everybody does it! This is New Jersey, forgettaboutit!
    I don’t have the all the facts but I do hear a bit of quacking. Could it be a duck? Ahh, what difference does it make?

  20. Yes, the unhitching of wagons has begun. People with the highest personal brand equity at risk will go on the offensive to reclaim the high ground. Must-see-Montclair-tv.

  21. It is the blind spot of those that advance their self-interests through transactional relationships.

  22. Political hit. Yacobellis is being punished for introducing the resolution to fire Stafford. Montclair is such an easy mark.

  23. With all this going on, I think the Council’s Finance Committee should initiate a forensic audit of the Montclair Center Corporation. Personally, I would like to know what happen to the $457,333.33 back in 2013 that is still being paid off by us, including Montclair seniors. Maybe they can pay us back?

  24. And for fun, just know the Montclair Center Corporation’s tax assessment revenue has increase by 77%, $433,000 from 2017 to 2022. Wanna guess what is driving that increase? And that revenue is going to the C-1 property owners.

  25. Just a little more to for the public and the Montclair Residents For Responsible Development to consider.

    The 2022 Montclair Center Corp annual report. I’ll give you a headsup, MCC is very successful driving traffic to Montclair. They think the sky is the limit and we want them to achieve.

    Oh, FYI, here is the Montclair Center Corp mission statement:

    The mission of the Montclair Center BID is to create a visually appealing, prosperous and inclusive downtown through continuous cleaning and beautification, programming, marketing, economic development, and advocacy

    And lastly, the MCC covers the C-1 Commercial Zone. Yes, LP in in the C-1. Starting to wonder? If you are subsidizing the MCC and yet, you want to taps the brakes on Montclair Center becoming more popular, you might have to do a little reconciliation before moral outrage. Good luck with that.

  26. Councilman Peter Yacobellis’ conduct goes nowhere near the level of a conflict of interest.
    He is being punished for his having forced a Council vote on the termination of town manager Tim Stafford.

  27. Councilman Yacobellis and his team’s work do unprecedented good for the community. A blessing for Montclair.

  28. Councilor Yacobellis appears somewhat more competent and statesmanlike than the rest of this sorry bunch, but those allegations give me pause. Does anyone remember where he stood on development BEFORE he got a full-time position with OM? Mayor Spiller is clearly in favor of the current plan. In the past, Yacobellis seemed to be at odds with Spiller on most issues. However, something happened in late 2022, specifically between October 25 and November 14. Yacobellis’ attitude towards Spiller became drastically different, i.e. he seemed to have aligned himself with Spiller and his agenda. Spiller’s agenda is notoriously self-serving and harmful to the town so many found Yacobellis’ shift troubling. That said, I see a number of individuals in our government whose conduct is equally troubling.

  29. Pat,

    You make a valid point. While right now everyone seems to be obsessing about allegedly unethical actions of Councilor Yacobellis, I see much bigger ethical problems emanating from the town’s Clerk’s Office and the Law Department. Both departments seem to be plagued by numerous issues related to ethics and competence, which then spill into other areas.

    There’s a distinction, however, in that the Municipal Clerk’s rampant dereliction of duty presents a problem mostly to the residents (think scandalously delayed responses to OPRA requests, council meeting meetings not done for over a year, resolutions not uploaded for weeks on end, etc.). By contrast, unqualified town attorneys present a problem both to the residents (skyrocketing cost of outside counsel) AND to the leadership as various town matters mishandled due to subpar legal guidance.

    From my observations, a good portion of messes and fiascos we have come accustomed to seeing over the course of last year could have been avoided upon Council getting competent legal advice. In other words, as inept and exasperating as this Council is, some of their poor functioning is caused directly by lack of competent, experienced town attorney. I don’t understand what they were thinking when they hired two attorneys with zero municipal experience! Burr’s temporary appointment is through the end of March. Let’s hope the Council will not make the mistake of extending this guy for another 3 months.

    Glen Ridge fire agreement is one of the more glaring examples of incompetence compounded by ethics violation. The sole reason the town is saddled for the next 15 years with this disaster of a deal is because Burr persuaded Councilor Robin Schlager to change her vote from no to a yes. Schlager publicly said that the reason she changed her vote was because Mr. Burr told her she might have personal liability if she voted no. Total nonsense! That he in his capacity as town attorney deliberately misinformed his client raises the issue of attorney ethics. That she believed him is a testament to just how little she knows about very basic legal concepts.

    Prior to the upheaval in December 2021, we had 1 town attorney (Ira Karasick – imperfect but competent) and Law Department’s spending on outside lawyers was reasonable. Now there are 2 town attorneys (Paul Burr + Gina DeVito) and costs are exorbitant! I’m glad Frank Rubacky brought it up earlier because this situation must be examined and corrected. The contracts for outside lawyers keep getting increased, which recently necessitated a substantial infusion of funds into the Law Department’s budget (adding up to over $700,000 in 2022 – unheard of!). I was shocked to see that one law firm’s contract reached a whopping $155K! I would like to see what the law department’s budget is in other towns, such as Bloomfield.

    Further, from my own, admittedly superficial examination, I see that Ms. DeVito’s position is listed as full-time but a simple google search shows that she also works as municipal prosecutor for Montclair (is this her second job paid by the town?) and for a number of other surrounding towns. When does she credibly find time to work all these extra gigs on top of the 35 hours she is required to work for the town as a full-time town attorney? I wonder if we can get her time records from the town. It looks like we, the taxpayers, are getting fleeced again.

    Curiously – and appallingly – both Burr and DeVito seem supportive of the disgraced town manager Tim Stafford; it was glaringly obvious during the last few council meetings. Councilor Yacobellis had the right to ignore their advice and read his statement to the public. He had to fight to get them to quit interrupting him. It gives me pause: are they working for the town or for Tim Stafford?

    Why are we paying those 2 incompetent and agenda-driven so-called “municipal attorneys” instead of hiring 1 solid, experienced town attorney who could help right the ship?

  30. I agree that this is a hit job connected to Yacobellis pushing for the removal of Stafford. The only question I have is, Who is benefiting from Stafford enabling Hermann’s runaway budget? I think it is pretty dark, potentially. Additionally, the way that our neighbors weaponize social media to demand immediate accountability at their whim, rather than the built-in accountability of due process and elections, pretty much ensures no good person will ever be willing to work in local politics again. It disgusts me.

  31. jennyjennyjenjenjen,

    Seriously? Councilor Yacobellis asked for Hermann’s Runaway Budget when he kowtowed to the MFD! A truly shameful act by the Councilor.

    And the next time the MFD’s Local Union 20 wants to negotiate a new contract, let’s all agree to use FEMA rates. Union 20 wanted to ignore the law. So be it.

    We’re all good, right?

  32. @Scriberman

    I share your concerns about the qualifications of the two town attorneys. Another thorny issue related to the law department is paying O’Toole Scrivo for their fake investigation of racial discrimination at MFD. A few meetings ago, Burr tried to push through payment of their exorbitant charges but, apparently, there were issues with legality of this contract so it was a no-go for a while.

    Fast forward to the February 21 council meeting. Resolution to pay O’Toole is NOT on the agenda but… they get paid! (@ 5hours 3 minutes into the meeting) In the middle of the night (right after closed session when there are maybe 3 people left in the audience), Spiller starts reading some cryptic resolution to pay for ”investigation of employment practices at the fire department”. Neither the name O’Toole was mentioned nor the amount that was being approved for payment! What is this?? Why is the town attorney sneaking items at the last moment instead of having things properly listed on the agenda so the public knows what to expect? Mind you, this was not some last-moment emergency of any sort – the Law Department has been sitting on this bill for months!

    Is the Town Clerk is accommodating it? I remember reading in some of the articles that she is Stafford’s secretary with no municipal clerking experience whatsoever, but “chosen” to be the municipal clerk trumping many experienced candidates, including the prior Deputy Clerk who filed the lawsuit. Talk about ethics. This is outright corruption. Heard this clerk didn’t even perform her statutory duties. Wasn’t she the one who cost us huge penalties for her ‘arbitrary and capricious’ acts?

    I am not someone who drank Peter’s Coolaid, but before anyone asks Peter to recuse himself, they should ask that both attorneys and the clerk be removed from their respective positions.

    Btw, I am sick and tired of this increasingly frequent practice of sneaking items for a vote in without listing them on the agenda. Sneaking in O’Toole payment was obviously Burr’s doing, but Spiller is good for that too. God, I can’t wait to see this guy go. I think he wins the competition with Fried in the category “Who Did a Worse Job as Mayor”.

  33. While I am grateful for what Councilor Yacobellis does for our community, I am indeed grateful for what Martin Schwartz does for our much needed preservation in Montclair planning issues. I should also say that Martin Schwartz’ s watch, dedication and expertise is extremely valuable and significant for our community over the past 2 decades. We need him back on the Planning Board.

  34. Forget the Planning Board. He should be elected 3rd Ward Councilor. Most of his Planning Board work was in the 3rd Ward, too.

  35. I agree. Martin Schwartz seems to be on a constant war path with half the people in tow, but he would sure be a vast improvement on Lori Price Abrams. She is nothing but an extension of Spiller. When was the last time she cast a vote that was different than his? My wife and I found her token Pledge at the 2/21 council meeting hallow and offensive. She smiles and ‘pledges’ no-hate’ fluff as female town employees have to resort to lawsuits to ward off mistreatment. Bravo, Ms. Price Abrams, bravo.

    She is also an attorney. How does she sit there and let Burr and DeVito lead the Town into legal hell?

  36. Martin Schwartz has no place on the planning board or the town council. I’m not allowed on this website to say why (ask the moderators), but lets just say he has espoused illiberal views publicly that many of you would find abhorrent. If he tries to get back on the planning board or hold any office in town, I will republish his own remarks for all to see.

  37. I was speaking tongue in cheek re: MS as 3W Councilor. The 3rd Ward is known better for their political contributions than their Councilors’ contributions.

  38. Feldingmellish — give it a rest. This story is about official conflict of interest. About overdevelopment. Frank gg. is right. The Schwartz has been the voice of reason here. He was one of the only board members willing to take on all those developer scams. To push back on preservation.

    Your obsessed with him clearly still over international politics?

  39. Fieldingmellish: “I’m not allowed on this website to say why” nor are you able in any local groups. Perhaps because you have been aggressive and hateful towards others? I find it cowardly to claim to have some “bombshell” info only to be too frightened to say.

    I’ve only known Martin a short time and appreciate his efforts, past and present, towards our community. Personal attacks like yours simply demonstrate you have no critical or credible information to refute him. Fairly vile tactic.

  40. Frank, just how does Peter have legal grounds to come at me with a lawsuit? Because I’m disappointed in him. I said nothing slanderous or even near libel. Oh, FYI, I’m Mr. Pope for the record.

    Please enlighten me.

  41. “Obsessed” is an understatement spotontarget. I believe Fedlingmellish has been kicked out of every local website for just this kind of attack on people’s views. She’s simply intolerant if anyone has a pov that does not fit her take.

    That’s the new cancel culture today sadly for some on both the right and the left. If you don’t see the world exactly my way then you’re a “racist”. Or, a “Trumper.”

    I have to stand by my land use and municipal service record and my international/national politics. Will still speak out when I believe something right and when needed, against those doing wrong. You decide…

  42. “We attempted to meet with you and forestall this.”

    An amazingly poor choice of words. What were you thinking? Enlighten me. Please.

  43. I’ve been kicked off of 0 websites. I have all the receipts. I have every post to Montclair unmoderated saved. Since you stand by your record, would you mind if I republished your posts?

  44. Mr. Schwartz is not a lawyer and shouldn’t be giving legal advice. He seems to sadly have nothing better to do with his time than create drama in Montclair. Secret Montclair is a sewer.

    There are very clear standards for conflicts of interest, defined by the courts. The lawyers can decide. I’m more concerned about the CFO and former Clerk’s lawsuit against the Township and possibly the Mayor and if the Mayor and others on the Council did actually retaliate against her.

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