City Council, Agency swap out legal firms

The longtime law firm representing City Council and Redevelopment Agency is out this year, replaced at the annual organization meetings and continuing a series of changes by the administration in recent months.

City Council at its Jan. 5 organization meeting awarded a professional services contract (which are not subject to public bid) to Weiner Lesniak, where powerful  State Sen. Raymond Lesniak is founding partner. The contract for 2015 is $150,000 — the same amount DeCotiis was awarded last year.

City Administrator Cherron Rountree said after the Jan. 12 regular meeting that the change in law firms was not a reflection of the work by DeCotiis. It’s the administration’s prerogative to review annual appointments and a new firm can provide a new perspective, she said. DeCotiis had been the city’s legal counsel for about 15 years, and individually by Louis Rainone for some 30 years. The firm also was counsel to the Redevelopment Agency since its inception in 1998.

Meanwhile, the Redevelopment Agency at its Jan. 7 meeting unanimously approved Parsippany-based Weiner Lesniak as general counsel, replacing DeCotiis FitzPatrick and Cole of Teaneck counsel (Resolution 04-15).

Asked by Commissioner Paul Sefranka about “any lingering issues” for general counsel, Redevelopment Director Len Bier said there are some and Frank Regan of DeCotiis will handle the most imminent items, namely the closing on the Elizabethtown Gas property and pursuing the general contractor to complete work and repairs on Hamilton Stage. But there was no specific explanation or discussion about the reason for the change in firms.

The agency also appointed Maser Consulting of Red Bank (Resolution 06-15) to replace Warren-based Bohler Engineering. Bohler will remain as the city’s engineering firm and also is overseeing the $16.6-million water treatment plant upgrade. Maser also will work with the Zoning and Planning boards and Maser’s engineer, Jacqueline Dirmann, worked with City Engineer James Housten at Bohler.

The past six months has seen considerable turnover as Mayor Samson Steinman, who won election to a full term in November, aims to put his mark on the administration. The executive director of the Redevelopment Agency has been replaced, along with five of seven Redevelopment Agency commissioners, and now the contracts for legal counsel, with more possible changes coming, I’m told. All the appointments require confirmation from City Council.