The resolution, authored by Second Ward Councilwoman Beth Mason and co-sponsored by First Ward Councilwoman Theresa Castellano, alleges that Bhalla’s employment with the “politically active” law firm Florio Perrucci Steinhardt & Fader constitutes a clear conflict of interest on Bhalla’s part. Florio Perrucci has done significant work for the city in the past, but apparently has severed ties with the city since hiring Bhalla.
The resolution also demands that Zimmer express her support for the resolution, and that it be delivered upon passage to the New Jersey Office of Attorney Ethics and the state Department of Community Affairs.
Bhalla is up for reelection on Zimmer’s ticket in November. Mason and Castellano are two of Zimmer’s staunchest opponents on the Council, along with mayoral candidate and Fourth Ward Councilman Tim Occhipinti, who Mason and Castellano both support.
“The public has an absolute right to know all of the circumstances as to how a councilman suddenly became partners with a major city vendor,” said Mason in a statement. “The people of Hoboken have made it loud and clear that they are tired of politicians in City Hall using their offices for their own benefit, rather than the benefit of the community.”
But Cunningham, a Zimmer ally like Bhalla, lashed out at Mason and Castellano’s accusations. Cunningham cited the need to clarify several factual errors as his reason for not placing the resolution on Thursday night’s agenda.
“Unfortunately, neither [Mason nor Castellano] appeared to have made the necessary inquiries to determine the facts involved,” he wrote. “As a result, their resolution is replete with factual errors and misrepresentations.”
According to the Cunningham memo, which was written after consultation with the city’s attorney, Mellissa Longo, Florio Perrucci has done no legal work for the city since taking Bhalla on as a partner, and existing cases in which it was involved were transferred to other firms. Mason had claimed that an opinion issued by the Appellate Division on Sept. 6 on a case in which Florio Perrucci had represented the city was proof of the alleged impropriety, but Cunningham disagreed, arguing that the firm had submitted its work to the court last January, before Bhalla’s hiring.
“Apparently, Councilwomen Mason and Castellano, who are not attorneys, did not understand that there can be a long wait, in this case seven and a half months, for a case to be decided after legal work is completed,” he wrote.
Furthermore, Cunningham claimed that Bhalla has not taken part in any council votes related to Florio Perrucci since joining the firm, and abstained from votes in the month prior. The last time he voted on a Florio Perrucci contract was in February, Cunningham said. – Dean DeChiaro