In a written statement issued Wednesday, Roberts wrote, "I did this because I have determined that the city would be better served by a change of leadership in certain areas."
Roberts added, "As I approach the second half of my second term as mayor, I am re-evaluating the performance of all department directors. My goal is to ensure that city services are delivered in the most cost-effective manner possible, and to make city government as open, honest, and efficient as possible."
Roberts has already said he probably will not run for re-election as mayor.
In making this announcement, he has freed himself up to make riskier decisions.
City sources attributed Sherman's termination to disagreements between the attorney and Roberts over the handling of several situations in recent months.
One source also speculated that the change may have had to do with the shifting alliances in the county because of the upcoming legislative primaries in June. Numerous battles erupted last week among those taking sides in the elections (see cover story).
Roberts appointed Sherman in early 2003, replacing the city's previous attorney, Esther Suarez, who is currently serving as counsel for Bergen County, according to Hoboken Public Information Officer William Campbell. Campbell declined to comment on Sherman's dismissal, saying it was a personnel matter.
Sherman, who could not be reached for a comment, is expected to finish several current cases for the city, according to Roberts.
Roberts announced that Deputy Corporation Counsel Joseph Pojanowski will take Sherman's place during an interim period before a permanent counsel can be selected. Pojanowski is a partner at Pojanowski and Trawinski, a law firm in Clifton, and has been acting as the city's deputy counsel for several years, according to Campbell.
City Council reacts
Councilman-at-Large Peter Cammarano, who is one of four councilpeople who are attorneys, said that the mayor alerted him of a potentially detrimental situation stemming from an erosion of trust between Roberts and Sherman.
"The mayor, as expressed to me, had lost the trust and confidence in Sherman, and when that ceases to exist, there is no attorney/client relationship," Cammarano said.
Cammarano stressed the importance of the city attorney's role.
"He's instrumentally involved in public policy, litigation that can cost taxpayers millions of dollars," he said. "The corporation counsel is a member of the mayor's inner circle, and the mayor cannot lack trust and confidence in someone with Joe Sherman's job."
Councilwoman-at-Large Terry LaBruno had reached a similar conclusion.
"I believe the mayor lost confidence with him. He's always answered all my questions, but in the end, it comes down to what the mayor thinks is best."
Although 4th Ward Councilman Christopher Campos, another attorney, did not want to criticize the mayor for his decision, Campos disagreed with the way it was handled.
"I'm shocked. And although I don't know the circumstances, I'm disappointed [Sherman] was fired so abruptly," said Campos. "I don't want to prejudge the mayor's decision, but I don't think it was handled appropriately." Third Ward Councilman Michael Russo expressed outright disapproval of Roberts' handling of the situation.
"He handled it in the wrong way," Russo said. "The fact is that if he had lost trust in the way the Law Department was being run, he should have showed it more, rather than just firing him. It was abrupt and probably inappropriate." Michael Mullins can be reached at email@example.com.