The report was the result of a review of five local governments that found “repeated waste of taxpayer dollars on excessive or improper payments for legal services, including one town that paid a salary for an attorney with no job duties at all.”
North Bergen and West New York were the two Hudson County municipalities that were included in the report.
“What we found were repeated failures to review legal bills and manage legal contracts in a way that looks out for taxpayers,” said Comptroller Matthew Boxer. “Public officials need to scrutinize their legal bills as if they were paying for them out of their own pocket.”
In North Bergen, the OSC said it found a salaried attorney with a “no-work job,” though the office did not name the individual. The report said township officials were not able to provide any information on the attorney’s job responsibilities.
The report also talked about the township's regular attorney. The audit had stated that as a result of Herb Klitzner’s “dual positions as North Bergen’s Township Attorney and Of Counsel with the Chasan [Chasan Leyner & Lamparello, P.C.] firm,” his alleged actions described in the report of referring township work to Chasen “appear to be a violation of the Local Government Ethics Law.”
A township spokesman took umbrage with the report’s assessment.
“We strongly object to the comptroller’s report in two key areas,” said Paul Swibinski. “First, the township attorney does not have a conflict of interest, and the state Supreme Court said there was no conflict of interest in 1995. There is still no conflict of interest. Earlier this month, Supreme Court Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto said he reviewed the report and said there is no conflict. We say the Supreme Court and Soto are right, and the comptroller’s report is wrong.”
Second, the charge that “North Bergen had on the town payroll someone who did no work is also false,” Swibinski said. “It was investigated by the Hudson County prosecutor and he found no evidence of wrongdoing. The fact of the matter is the attorney was doing work for the township of North Bergen.”
In West New York, the OSC found that the town paid one law firm at the attorney rate of $150 per hour for administrative work performed by a secretary. It also reported that in multiple months, West New York paid the law firm more than it was billed.