Dubious, suspect, ridiculous, and an uphill climb — those were just some of the words the Honorable Judge Stephen Petrillo used Friday in response to arguments made by attorney Derrick Freijomil of Riker Danzig representing the Township of Montclair in the case brought by Padmaja Rao, the township’s chief financial officer.

The bombshell complaint, filed by Rao more than seven months ago, alleged the township retaliated against her after she blew the whistle on alleged financial improprieties including Montclair Fire Department submitting fraudulent time records and Montclair town council members receiving full-time health benefits.

Representing Rao was Nancy Erika Smith and Roosevelt Nesmith. At the defense table, Freijomil was joined by Philip George of Eric M. Bernstein & Associates, acting as attorney for Montclair’s former town manager Timothy Stafford. Rao was seated in the gallery, behind her attorneys, watching the proceedings as were several Montclair residents who made the trip to Newark’s historic courthouse.

Derrick Freijomil addresses Judge Stephen Petrillo Friday in Newark’s Historic Courthouse, Essex County Vicinage.

The first matter Judge Petrillo dispensed with during more than three hours of oral arguments was the request made by Freijomil to seal a transcript of the oral arguments and essentially close the court room to the public.

“Given that there are documents in the public realm, and have been since last year, I find the 11th hour request to be sort of dubious,” Petrillo said. “I explained to you in our conference call with Ms. Smith, why it was extremely unlikely that it would be granted and it’s not going to be granted.”

Judge Questions Who Is Directing Montclair’s Legal Strategy

Petrillo referred again to the attempt to seal the proceedings as he and Freijomil went through the complaint paragraph by paragraph with Freijomil arguing for the removal of references to documents he asserted were confidential, privileged or protected by attorney/client privilege.

“In a whistleblower context, isn’t everything a whistleblower is going to say in their lawsuit, likely to be potentially unlawful information they came upon in the course of their duties?” Petrillo asked. “How does anybody plead a whistleblower cause of action without blowing the whistle on things that were unlawful and which they learned about in the doing of their jobs?”

“If you’re going to put personnel matters out in public, you have to give the right notice,” Freijomil said.

“Never mind letting personnel records get out,” Petrillo said. “How about letting town council members get health benefits they weren’t entitled to? How about letting firefighters retire when they didn’t have enough pension credits? How about that? I’d be more worried about that. Or at least as worried about that. That’s the very essence of the claim. So what I’m struggling with understanding, as everybody worries about how many grains of rice are at the bottom of the bowl, no one is worried about the big picture.”

Petrillo repeatedly asked for clarity from Freijomil, regarding who he was getting his direction from, and referring to comments made by two Montclair councilors in media reports stating they were not involved in the township’s legal strategy.

Petrillo asked if the council had to act collectively as a body to make decisions about litigation strategy, litigation settlement, and whether to go to trial.

“How do you determine, when representing that body, who it is that you can take direction from and give information to, and who you may not? If Councilman X calls you up and says, ‘hey, tell me what’s going on with the case’ how does that work?

“Judge, I don’t want to delve into any of our communications,” Freijomil replied.

“I didn’t ask you who you were talking to. I’m asking you conceptually,” said Petrillo. “I’m not asking for anybody’s names. I’m asking how you know what to do if you’re not able to tell me who it is that gives orders and makes decisions?”

“There’s direction from the legal department and it also can come from a potential administrator,  the manager, but the ultimate right or privilege belongs to the town,” said Freijomil.

“I asked you about this the other day,” said Petrillo. “Media reports had a number of the people on the council saying they had absolutely no idea this was going on. There is reason to believe the argument you are advancing here today was not hatched by the decision makers, but was hatched by someone on the outside.”

“I run my ideas by the persons who are authorized to give direction on this,” said Freijomil. “I don’t want to get into any substance, but I am in a tripartite relationship, which I’m sure your Honor is familiar.”

“I want you to understand that where I’m coming from, it all becomes somewhat suspect,” said Petrillo. “The town has known about this case since the day it was served. Your client has known what was in this complaint since then. Your client has known about the arguments you’ve made in these motions. And then suddenly, two days before oral argument, you submit the letter [asking to seal the proceedings] that you do, taking this grave position.  I don’t see how there’s any scenario where today you would get the type of relief you’re asking for as broadly as you are.”

In her oral argument, Rao’s attorney Nancy Erika Smith said the defendant had waived their right to privilege by not acting to protect this information immediately after the complaint was filed.

“You can waive a privilege by leaving confidential documents out, whether you leave it in your waiting room or you hand it out to people who aren’t entitled to it. If you don’t protect the privilege, it is waived,” said Smith.

“Did that happen here?” asked Petrillo.

“Yes, it happened because they didn’t act within minutes. They didn’t act within hours. They didn’t act within days. They didn’t act within weeks. This information was in the public sphere three months before they moved. Then, when they moved, they sat on those rights,” said Smith.

The Morgan Report

Oral arguments also focused on the report prepared by Montclair’s affirmative action officer Bruce Morgan and a subsequent email sent by Morgan to Rao.

Per the complaint, Morgan completed his report and provided it to the Montclair law department on August 29, 2022. Morgan found that Stafford had created a hostile work environment for Rao. He stated in his report that he “believe[d] the evidence provided shows that Mr. Stafford’s actions toward Ms. Rao have substantially affected the work environment of a reasonable person. Accordingly, I find that a hostile work environment was created by Mr Stafford toward Ms. Rao.”

Petrillo read directly from the complaint.

“On September 28, 2022, the Assistant Township Attorney wrote to Mr. Morgan that Montclair rejected his finding that Stafford had created a hostile work environment for Rao. Neither the Assistant Township Attorney nor any other member of the Montclair law department, administration or council had contacted Rao concerning her complaint to Mr. Morgan.”

“There’s obviously nothing in that sentence, right?” Petrillo asked Freijomil.

“It is the entirety of it, Judge, with regard to her providing her legal opinion,” said Freijomil.

“Don’t you think that’s a little ridiculous?” asked Petrillo. “She, the plaintiff received an email from Morgan. It was directed to her, copied to the deputy manager of the town and the assistant attorney, reporting to the plaintiff that the law department had rejected his finding that Stafford had created a hostile work environment. So she received a communication, she’s characterizing the substance of it.”

“Maybe she’s making it up, maybe she’s right on point. It’s certainly not privileged though, right?” Petrillo asked.

“Whether or not she should have received it, does not negate the fact it would remain privileged,” argued Freijomil.

“But it was addressed to her,” said Petrillo.

“I understand, but should he have sent it to her?” said Freijomil.

Petrillo called this argument by Freijomil the most “out of bounds so far.”

The DeVito Memo

Of all the whistleblower issues raised in the complaint, the one that came up again and again was the issue of Montclair councilors receiving full time health benefits, and specifically their participation, beginning in 2017, in the New Jersey State Health Benefits Program.

At the center of these discussions was a memo sent by assistant township attorney Gina DeVito and whether it was considered privileged.

Per the complaint, on August 16, 2022, DeVito sent a memo to all council members stating that council members were not eligible to take township-paid health benefits. Attorney DeVito’s memo referenced a press release from the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office that announced charges against Wildwood, New Jersey elected officials for enrolling in the SHBP when they were not “full time employees” as defined by state law. The memo again stated that the 2010 law required elected officials to be full-time employees “whose hours of work are fixed at 35 or more per week.”

Nancy Erika Smith, co-counsel for Montclair CFO Padmaja Rao, argues before Judge Stephen Petrillo.

During her oral argument, Smith detailed how Rao ultimately blew the whistle on an alleged “illegal scheme.”

“In 2017, the town attorney and staff participated in an illegal scheme to give council members medical benefits they were not entitled to. And from the beginning, the town attorney was a participant in that illegal scheme, creating fake time records or suggesting that there be fake time records,” said Smith, referring to former township attorney Ira Karasick. “There is not a town council member, according to one of them who put it in writing, that this is their primary employment and that they work more than 35 hours a week.”

Petrillo asked if the Montclair councilors receive a salary.

“They get a modest stipend. I think it’s $10,000. These people want us to believe that some of them work full-time, 35 hours a week for $10,000 a year,” said Smith.

Smith stated an auditor raised concerns about the health care issue in April of 2021.

“Again, the town attorney and Mr. Stafford conspired and colluded with council members receiving illegal benefits, contrary to the clear law of the state of New Jersey, in exchange for continued employment. And the town has the audacity to come in here and question the loyalty of the person who put her job on the line to protect the town — not the corrupt politicians — but to protect the town. They repeatedly challenged her loyalty in protecting corrupt politicians who stole from the town,” Smith said of the treatment of Rao.

“I said it again today, that if some of these things are true, the least of the concerns should be civil action by an employee, but potential criminal liability for those who may have participated in these, if they actually happened,” said Petrillo. “Your argument is, at the heart of the whistleblower claim, the disclosure of what they’re trying to say is privileged information, which, even if it fell into the technical definition of privileged information, is nevertheless fair game because the disclosure of that information reveals potential criminal conduct, which by definition is not subject to that privilege.”

Petrillo then further explored the DeVito memo, asking if Smith thought it was a close call in terms of being privileged information.

Smith said she believed it fell under the crime fraud exception.

“This is August of 2022,” Smith said of the memo. “Ms. Rao has complained about this since 2017 when it was brought to her attention by an outside auditor. She complained about it again in 2021. In July, the auditor met with Rao, Stafford and [acting township attorney Paul] Burr. And again, the auditor said his concerns. Stafford and the town attorney did not promise any corrective action. She raised it again on July 28. The committee members were there, the finance committee members, the council members who were on that committee. And again, the finance committee members didn’t address the issue. On August 16th, I think the jury could conclude that this memo is completely subject to the crime fraud exception because, they participated now since 2017. They created time sheets that are not filled out. They created certifications. This is CYA, if I’ve ever seen it.”

Smith went on to say the people of Montclair for years have probably unknowingly paid their town council full private insurance benefits even though they were only making $10,000 a year.

“A whole lot of people deserve to pay back the people of Montclair a whole lot of money for a lot of years, way before 2017. But after 2017, when they moved into the state system, what they were doing became illegal,” said Smith.

Petrillo asked for the DeVito memo, but when it could not be produced by either side, he requested that it be submitted to the court for review.

Montclair Seeks To “Wall Off” Rao at Work

The defendant’s motion for a protective order sought to prevent Rao from engaging in any discussions, decisions or activities in the township that relate to her allegations in the litigation and from obtaining or disclosing any privileged, confidential, or otherwise protected information and documents.

“You let the woman do her job,” said Petrillo in response to Freijomil. “If she’s a crook,  the case will fail and she’ll get fired. If she’s a hero, she’ll ultimately be compensated for the damages she suffered. I don’t know whether she’s one or the other, but what I’m trying to figure out is — how do we craft a solution that accomplishes what you are entitled to, separating her from encountering privileged communications, privileged information, things about the internal workings and thoughts of the town as to her case, but still let her do her job?”

Smith stated that since Rao has been employed by the township, she has participated in meetings regarding health insurance, including the meeting when they switched to the state health insurance plan in 2017.

“She participates as the CFO in what health benefits go to town employees. She certifies the available funds for all outside contractors,” said Smith. “She’s not allowed to be involved in the fire department at all, even though she’s the qualified pension person and there’s been stealing time in the fire department? She’s the CFO!”

“The state health benefits and implementation of that, they are not at issue anymore, so there’s no reason for her to have any involvement or snooping around with that,” said Freijomil, who questioned why Rao had been involved in other areas of township business and suggested she be walled off to even prevent the appearance of a conflict of interest.

“This is sort of a conundrum, especially when someone has expansive authority,” said Petrillo.

“The town, which Ms. Rao has accused of being corrupt, stealing money from the taxpayers and creating a hostile work environment for women and illegally covering that up and not complying with any of the remedial actions they’re supposed to take, now wants to stop all financial management and controls,” said Smith. “They want to stop Ms. Rao from being able to see further financial crimes because Riker Danzig is defending not the town, not the people, but the wrong doers in this courtroom today. So they want to stop somebody who’s shown to be ethical, who they call unethical, and who’s being loyal, who they call disloyal, from continuing to be ethical and loyal.”

Smith then said everything Rao does is dictated by statute and was provided in court documents.

“I want to make it part of the record that there is no reply countering anything that Ms. Rao talks about when she describes what her job statutorily requires to protect the people of Montclair,” said Smith. “And one of those things is the requirement that there’s a budget. Even the law department has a budget and there are laws about what has to go out for bidding. So they want to take away a big part of her job that protects the town and complies with the law. They’re actually asking you to let them not comply with the law about what her job is.”

“I guess I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around what this is all about,” said Petrillo of the defense’s motion. “It seems designed to marginalize her [Rao], not for the sake of marginalization, but for the sake of shielding her from seeing those things which as part of the discharge of her duties, she has uncovered as problematic. And it seems designed not to avoid giving her an advantage, but to avoid having her continue to do what she’s been doing all along, which is minding the store, at least according to her.”

“Judge, the decisions and the ethical obligations do not rely upon whether or not she’s a good actor or a bad actor,” said Freijomil. “They remove her from that situation. That’s the idea behind it.”

“You’ve said a lot,” said Petrillo to Freijomil. “You’ve been very comprehensive. I disagree with almost everything you’ve said, but it resonates with me because it’s well said.”

“Do I think there needs to be some wall off as to that very broad category of litigation materials directly bearing on her case or maybe even on the companion case that Judge Tarantino has, that’s the subject of the consolidation motion? Maybe, but the day-to-day, the work day things that she does in her job, I don’t see how you, through me, can do that at this point.”

“I’ll say this. If something is whipped out at some point, which is clearly out of bounds and which clearly demonstrates the plaintiff has taken advantage of her position to use and access materials not available to the general public in a way that is outside the litigation process, a sanction would likely be appropriate because we’ve warned everyone. But I don’t want to prejudge her intentions,” said Petrillo.

Petrillo then took a brief recess and returned to address the court.

“I would like you to think about what lies ahead. We’ve been here now for three hours, and the defendant hasn’t even filed an answer to the complaint yet, and the case is already seven months old. So whatever that means for all of you in the coming years, it means, but it’s clearly going to be a very significant undertaking.”

Petrillo then stated he had a 58-page written opinion memo he would be modifying and reading into the record on Friday, June 2.

“The motion to dismiss by both Stafford and Montclair is denied without prejudice because the court grants the motion to amend.”

“The court is satisfied that the amendments will cause no unfair prejudice to the defendant Timothy Stafford or Township of Montclair. Indeed, having a more robust pleading will ensure that the entirety of the claim is laid out so the defendants are in the best position to bring whatever motions for relief they may as regards this amended complaint.”

“And regarding the categorical arguments into the items in the complaint, I want to be sure I understand, which is one of the reasons why I’m not ruling today, because I need to modify the opinion.”

Petrillo said he would give a ruling regarding the “walling off” of Rao from tasks set forth in the order, and a ruling on confidentiality and the attorney-client items and how they should be treated. He requested receiving the DeVito memo early next week so it can be part of the ruling on Friday. Petrillo also said any ruling on the motion to consolidate Rao’s case with the case of Juliet Lee, currently with Judge Mayra Tarantino, would happen after Friday’s court date.

36 replies on “Montclair CFO Whistleblower Case: Judge Warns of Potential Criminal Liability”

  1. Is it just me or does it appear the judge is taking cues from what is on Baristanet?

  2. “You’ve said a lot,” said Petrillo to Freijomil. “You’ve been very comprehensive. I disagree with almost everything you’ve said, but it resonates with me because it’s well said.”

    Copy & paste this now into Baristanet’s draft of its 2023 Year In Review article.

  3. I, as many of us here in Montclair, only learned of the Crime Fraud Exception in relation to former President Trump’s legal problems.

  4. I was glad to see that Judge Petrillo got interested in the fact that some of the Councilors claimed lack of familiarity with the legal strategy reported on by Barista and the Local. Council is Riker’s client. How can client not be informed of the strategy?? As someone mentioned under prior article concerning this topic, the case belongs to the client, not to the attorney!

    It seems like either Riker and/or township attorney acted inappropriately by withholding critical strategy information from the Council or those on the Council who claimed ignorance are dissembling. It’s really one or the other.

    If the former, township attorney should be fired on the spot. If the latter, this disgrace of a Council should seriously consider resigning.

  5. “You’ve been very comprehensive. I disagree with almost everything you’ve said.” – Judge Petrillo

    This has made my day, lol! Priceless!! Riker lawyer must have sank through the floor. I am SO happy that this case got assigned to Judge Petrillo. When I first saw his name I asked around to get a sense what to expect. People in the industry say he is very smart and fair.

  6. You shouldn’t have to say “I told you so”… but sometimes, it does feel good to eventually be proven right.

    All we good government advocates who’ve continued to allude to conspiracies’ at 205, or political and policy improprieties we’ve seen from Councilor misbehaviors outed…are feeling quite redeemed this weekend.

    That’s because the usual official reaction to our refrains is either dismissal, or to try and shoot down the messenger. Of course, after some of us describe alleged official misdeeds, or allude to official process corruption we believe.

    Today, it’s hard to ignore this ‘do the right thing’ POV when our ranks were clearly joined by a no-nonsense judge with powers we just don’t have to finally get to the bottom of things.

    And sadly, by all appearances, that reality may smell worse than we even suspected.

  7. PS…it’s clear that every single Montclair Councilor now needs to go asap…including those who continue to say they knew nothing or that the Township Administration was/is running the show. That’s because under the Faulkner Act, Councilors actually have powers and complete authority to direct that Administration. If they use them.

    Bob Russo is not correct. We don’t need a change of government system here. We need to change all those sitting at the dais.

    Our town Councilors have the legal authority to compel any employee or town manager to appear before them in session, either public or executive, and be forced to to tell the truth under oath — about the operations of Montclair’s government. Using sworn testimony if needed. Therefore, our legislators have completely failed here and dropped the ball in their oversight duties.

    Some Councilors may be shown to actually be directing a conspiracy. Others, either turned a blind eye, or intentionally kept theirs heads in the sand. Either way, all of them now…including the Township Attorney — need to be booted right out the door. Just from the legal repartee and revelations from this preliminary hearing.

  8. The amount of money that is going to be spent here, that could be used instead for local services, i.e. our schools, is disheartening. No politician or lawyer who was involved in the fire contract and fire department fiascos can escape the consequences, and the efforts to do so will inevitably fail. If there is one thing we should have all learned by now it is that the cover up is usually even worse than the original offense. I add that I do not have an opinion about the Lackawanna proposal but I have concluded that the current Council has disqualified itself from making that evaluation on our behalf. It is time to go.

  9. This is just a mess. Baristanet did a great job of covering the hearing, but Liz’s article also highlights what we lost when Montclair Local and Baristanet merged. There’s no more Craig Wolff doing investigative journalism on the health insurance fraud issues, and there is a lot of important information about this that we still don’t know.

    This situation with Ms. Rao’s lawsuit is just a mess. Montclair’s lawyer is correct that his client is Montclair as an entity, not any single Councilor or even the Council as a whole. Somebody has to be empowered to give him directions, though, and it needs to be someone who doesn’t have a conflict of interest. The problem here, unless I’m missing something (or someone), is that there’s literally no one in a position of authority who doesn’t have a serious, disabling conflict.

    I have no choice but to single out Peter Yacobellis in this regard because he’s the Councilor doing most of the talking. Mr. Yacobellis has admitted publicly to being one of the Councilors who took very expensive health benefits to which he wasn’t legally entitled because he’s not a full-time employee. Montclair Local reported that the Township as an entity is under grand jury investigation for this, and as we know from the Wildwood situation, it is entirely possible the State ultimately may bring criminal charges against individual Councilors. Mr. Yacobellis’s public defenses have varied, from claiming he didn’t know his acceptance of the benefits was illegal, to claiming he worked more than 35 hours per week as a Councilor so he qualified for the benefits, to arguing that part-time Councilors should receive this benefit so that more people like him will run for Council. It’s certainly possible that the Township’s lawyer already knows information that counters Mr. Yacobellis’s public defenses, and even if nothing has come out yet, the formal discovery process hasn’t even started in the case. So, given all this, how much control should Mr. Yacobellis personally have over Montclair’s defense in the case? How much non-public information about the Township’s defense should he learn? Again, I’m singling him out only because he has done the most commenting, but the same could be said about any Councilor who took the health insurance benefits, participated in the decision to make them available to Council members, or knew other Councilors were taking unlawful benefits and remained silent about it.

    The decision to fight Ms. Rao’s lawsuit or settle it should be made by people who are thinking only of Montclair’s interests–which include the interests of us taxpayers and of Montclair as an employer (i.e., wanting to treat its employees fairly and without discrimination). Decisions shouldn’t be made for the Township by people who are favoring their personal interests instead. Yet, everything that we see publicly, from the interminable process over firing the eminently fireable Tim Stafford to the way the Council seems to treat every report about misconduct as a hot potato, suggests that a majority of them are thinking about themselves more than they are thinking about the people they represent.

    These kinds of conflicts happen all the time when institutional clients are under investigation and facing related litigation. Usually, you find a group of executives who aren’t conflicted and appoint them as the institution’s legal decision-makers. What you do in a situation like this one, where everybody has a conflict of some kind, takes a great deal of legal thought. I hope and expect that Riker Danzig has spent a lot of time thinking about the ethics issues at play here, that they landed on some kind of reporting structure that makes sense but that they can’t talk about publicly because to do so would highlight the conflicts at play. Perhaps that this is why Mr. Freejomil declined to provide specifics to the judge about who is and isn’t giving him directions. I seriously doubt Riker Danzig and Paul Burr are just winging it, but if they are, the troubles are just beginning. Nancy Erika Smith is really good at her job and is the wrong adversary to have if you are trying to keep information secret that should be public.

  10. “Councilor at Large Peter Yacobellis said he hasn’t been consulted but that the township’s insurer, the Garden State Insurance Fund, is working with external counsel, Riker Danzig, to inform the legal defense strategy.”

    To your question, could it be Councilor Yacobellis’ is again leaving bread crumbs to follow? And I love how neither GSIF or Riker Danzig are conflicted, either. This is so much more than a mess. We could be making new law!

  11. We need a clean slate of candidates to run for Council in 2024 who have no connections with this mess.

  12. The most resonating comment that bears repeating:

    “The town, which Ms. Rao has accused of being corrupt, stealing money from the taxpayers and creating a hostile work environment for women and illegally covering that up and not complying with any of the remedial actions they’re supposed to take, now wants to stop all financial management and controls,” said Smith. “They want to stop Ms. Rao from being able to see further financial crimes because Riker Danzig is defending not the town, not the people, but the wrong doers in this courtroom today. So they want to stop somebody who’s shown to be ethical, who they call unethical, and who’s being loyal, who they call disloyal, from continuing to be ethical and loyal.”

  13. Sad it has come to this, that the statutory requirement of Ms. Rao’s job is “to protect the people of Montclair” from the people whom the people of Montclair elected, and whom the elected then hired or retained.

    “The consent of the governed” does not require that the governed be particularly adept at kowing how the system works.

    What is required for the system to work is trust on one side and integrity on the other. In this case, their trust having been abused, the governed have no alternative but to put in place people with integrity. It is really that simple. Name one of our representatives who can wholly claim that virtue. And clearly, the entire lot of them, in toto, have lost any chance to be trusted. 2024, unfortunately, promises no better.

    Thanks to Liz George for giving it the prominence and reporting it deserves. It also happens to be better (i.e. more troubling) theater than even cable tv provides these days.

  14. I respond only to Mr. Jacobson’s comments about one councilman. He may be right or wrong about that but the recently absent Mayor is at the center of all this. He is the central figure in the Fire Depertment debacle (including the weaponinzing of the department against our citizens), the Finance Committee, a variety of clearly political appointments, the decision to crudely dispose of the Town’s prior lawyer on nonsensical accusations of racism and his replacement with an attorney with no apparemt qualifications other than a license to practice law, the preposterous and wasteful political hiring of a consultant to evaluate the municipal culture, the postponing of the administrator’s day of reckoning. We do not know whose “image” the egregiously inappropriate motion to seal the courtroom sought to protect but if you had to guess……And as for that carefully crafted image hasn’t the substance of the performance as Mayor, with the Spilleraining in lieu of competence pretty much taken care of that.

  15. Pelberg: I agree with 100% of what you said, including the comment about Spiller presiding over “crude disposal of prior township lawyer based on nonsensical accusations of racism.” I happen to be Black and I never had a problem with Ira. He was okay. Some years ago he helped my aunt (also Black) when she was having major issues with encroachment. Was he a perfect town attorney? No. Was he better than the TWO inexperienced and perpetually confused lawyers we have right now? Yes, by an order of magnitude!

    Going back to the Friday hearing, Riker lawyer said something interesting to Judge Petrillo. According to the article above, Frejomil said: “There’s direction from the legal department and it also can come from a potential administrator, the manager, but the ultimate right or privilege belongs to the town.”

    Who is this “potential administrator”? And what gives Riker the right to take strategy direction from someone who is not a client and who (from what I see) does not have any contract with the town?! What am I missing?

  16. @pelberg – why do you ignore the other two scenarios for Lackawanna – that BDP Holdings will sell the property or develop as a straight-up development application before the ZBA? The latter course would be absolutely great theater.

  17. Frank: how is your question relevant to the article at all? Am I missing something?

  18. WOW! First of all, excellent reporting. Second, we’ve been ROBBED! Taxpayers were robbed by the people we elected to represent us. Yes, I agree, they ALL need to go. I’ll go further and say none of them should ever be able to represent our town again. Every dime should be paid back. How about the indemnification policy they slipped in late at night? That should go out the door with all of them!

  19. For those suggesting a clean slate of candidates, *now* is the time to start recruiting people in town you believe to be qualified, free of personal and financial conflicts, willing to put in the time and emotional labor, confident and stable enough to withstand public scrutiny and ridicule with a contemplative shrug, enthusiastic to appear at daytime, evening, and weekend local events and openings, and financially able to accept a $10k stipend for the package.

    This is a sincere comment.

  20. Whoa, again. This is a part-time gig, remember?
    I consider part-time work week as 25.5 hrs or less.

    My suggestion for those interested is to your define a work week days/hrs. I would suggest the typical weekday week. Regardless, once you use up all your hours on reading (e.g. emails), mtg prep, mtgs involving parents, etc during the week (5.1 hrs/day), feel free to just make a hard stop and take your weekends for you. If unused hours still around on Friday, bank them like the Township does with its budget. You will need a rainy day fund of hours at some point in each year.

    When you think about it, there is not where your presence will add more significance to weekend events. Believe me, it can be handled during the week. The key is to train your constituents. Discipline is life.

  21. Kristin, I see you there trying to make the position sound horrible, but I can think of 3 off the top of my head that ran against these alleged criminals that fit your description. One should be Mayor right now. I don’t think we’d be in this mess because those people wanted to serve the people, not use this as a stepping stone as we see in a couple of them right now. Have you ever paid attention to our neighbors in Bloomfield? Their council runs like a team. They all tag each other in their FB posts and don’t try to grandstand like we see here. No one who has been paying attention is surprised about this council. What is surprising though, is the fact that more aren’t demanding their resignations immediately. I guess Montclair doesn’t mind footing the bill for things that this judge refers to as “the big picture”.

  22. Frank: The way I understand it, this is not a part time job, it is a volunteer position which comes with a stipend, not a salary. There’s a statutory difference.

    Darnell: Good catch on the “potential administrator”. My first thought was: are we hiring a new town manager or something? So I searched recent resolutions and the only relevant thing I found was resolution R-23-096 authorizing township attorney to “engage with Government Strategy Group to create outlines of a proposal”. This is for “general management and personnel services”.


    From my looking at it, Government Strategy Group is the only possible “potential administrator”.

    I’m dying to see how Riker will explain taking direction from a company that does not have any existing contract with the town? Is Mr. Burr in on this? He’s gotta be.

  23. Calvin,
    It’s technically not a job either.
    The health benefits issue?

    It is unlikely the GSG. One reason among many is they were vetted by a Council subcommittee.

  24. Hey there, Frank. Only two of the items on my list take any time. And I agree, self-discipline and “training” your constituents is absolutely necessary when accepting the responsibility of public service. The caveat, of course, is that comparing each council member’s choices becomes sticky and uneven, as we’ve seen in recent years. It’s an unfair comparison, but it happens nonetheless.

    However, there are some general expectations — look at the comment sections (which granted, are not representative of the general public, just those who have the time and inclination to make public comments) that deride those who aren’t at every public or community event. So sure, Council Members don’t HAVE to attend, but that’s where the other parts of my personal description come in.

    And hey there PMF. I don’t think the position is horrible at all. I didn’t describe the position, just the type of person needed.

    Like I said, my comment was sincere. The end.

  25. Frank,
    I don’t understand what you are saying. Did you look at the link in my earlier post? This resolution authorizes hammering out of a contract with GSG for management services. That is PRECISELY the reason to think that GSG is the “potential administrator”. Frejomil referred to in court last Friday. I don’t know if GSG “was vetted by a subcommittee”. Possibly. But what difference does that make? Entering into contract negotiations was voted on by entire council and there’s a resolution to that effect. Logically speaking, GSG is the only “potential administrator” on the horizon right now.

  26. Kristin,
    Well noted and successful candidates need to adopt many of my interpersonal skills. 😀
    May I suggest they create a separate, disposable email account ASAP until they get their township email account.

    I did. It was another off-agenda resolution I missed. Note the RFQ issue/reply dates. They waited 2 months to act on selection . Same night as indemnification ordinance. Same night they added an executive session. Watch the 4/12/23 Council mtg (see bookmark for this resolution). Hear “best practices “? Also, Committee mtgs not covered by privilege. Also note the lack of a committee name.

  27. Calvin and dellisanti,

    From my looking at it, the only way Riker guys could take direction on legal strategy from an external entity like GSG would be if the town attorney asked them to do so.  But that would mean the town attorney is in deep trouble.  Town’s intentions of hiring GSG notwithstanding, until the contract is signed, GSG is a ‘stranger’ for all intents and purposes and, as such, has no say in anything! 

    Further, if, God forbid, GSG in its bizarre capacity as “potential administrator” participated in any conversations between the Riker lawyer and the Town while “giving direction”, the attorney-client privilege between the Town and its attorney (Riker) is waived, forever. 

    Where did this Burr guy come from anyway? I’ve never heard of him before the Town hired him.  It seems like he doesn’t know what the hell he is doing.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up with a massive malpractice lawsuit over this “potential administrator” thing. 

    Another interesting thing I just remembered – at the beginning of the infamous October 25 meeting Burr suddenly recused himself from the conversation about Stafford citing as reason “abundance of caution and advice of counsel”.  Then he… promptly reinserted himself.  It appears he has remained ‘inserted’ ever since.  Dude, you can’t recuse and then un-recuse yourself!  Once recused, you remain recused. Is this guy a real lawyer??

  28. Darnell,
    You asked the right question – what should be the qualifications for an appointed administrator. Residency? Professional training? Occupation? Is there a right answer?

  29. When the Council renewed GSIF, one major reason given was the Council’s input would weigh heavily on the GSIF choice of attorney . So, stupid question, but is Riker Dansig GSIF’s attorney?

  30. Frank,

    I don’t understand what you are saying in you recent comment (yesterday at 7:16pm).

    The question was NOT about qualifications of an “appointed administrator” (whatever that means). The question was whether a “potential” (i.e. not actual) administrator can give direction to Riker lawyer (Derrick Frejomil) on legal strategy in Rao v. Montclair case.

    I cant’ believe I’m still up and thinking about this shit.

  31. FYI….if it wasn’t posted before — GSG is the staffing management company run by former Township Manager Joe Hartnett. Joe actually knows Montclair and knows how to “control” a going off the rails town Council — having worked under both the 2004 Remsen and 2008 Fried, bike team 3 administrations for a period of time.

    Is this a good move temporarily? For a discombobulated Council imploding, with just one year left in office — perhaps?

    For long term, where full house-cleaning is needed and people with actual public policy chops and logical analytic skills are needed on the Council, perhaps not.

    Right now, the players clearly need help. There needs are driven by a warped mixture of Trenton focused, Democratic power politics, over-the-top me, me personal narcissism and infantile, unresolved identify, therapeutic conflicts being played out with mass love-seeking in a public setting.

    Is it any wonder we are at this place today?…

  32. I would have to understand the representation issues Frejomil referenced in bringing up his challenge of the tripartite interests.

  33. No way. Absolutely no way the Twnshp should hire GSG. I don’t have the time or the inclination to explain myself….mostly because I shouldn’t have to. But go ahead. The citizens deserve everything that is happening to us. We stopped thinking a long time ago. Like lemmings. Martin, your description of this Council is also an apt description of Montclair townsfolk now.

  34. What I want to know is just how much money is this stupid Council planning to give to GSG for performing a service the Town doesn’t need. How about taking that money and using it for something that actually makes sense? Library? Seniors? Fixing those horrible sidewalks? Should I go on?

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