Town attorney resigns, and all heck breaks loose

Photo by Daniel Jackovino Former township attorney Brian Aloia in his Leo Building office, said the hiring of the departed town attorney did not meet legal requirements.
Photo by Daniel Jackovino
Former township attorney Brian Aloia in his Leo Building office, said the hiring of the departed town attorney did not meet legal requirements.

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Michael Parlavecchio, an attorney with Bevan, Mosca and Giuditta, of Basking Ridge, who had been appointed Bloomfield township attorney on Feb. 1, resigned his township position March 1. The resignation was confirmed by Bloomfield Mayor Michael Venezia.

“It’s procedural,” Venezia said without elaborating.

The Township Council had replaced Brian Aloia, who had served as the township attorney since Jan. 1, 2007, in a 3-2 vote, with two abstentions. Voting for the change was Venezia and councilmen Nicholas Joanow and Carlos Pomares; voting against it were councilmen Carlos Bernard and Joseph Lopez. Councilwoman Nina Davis and Councilman Elias Chalet abstained.

Aloia had warned the township he would be taking legal action if he were not reinstated. He has filed papers in Newark Superior Court alleging Parlavecchio’s appointment had not been procedurally legal.

In an interview in his Leo Building office on Monday, the day before Parlavecchio’s resignation, Aloia said he would drop the lawsuit if he were to be reinstated, with back pay, until a successor is legally appointed.

“You can remove the township attorney if you go through the process,” he said. “I, as the township attorney, was put in the odd position because I knew they failed to do that. Since he hasn’t been appointed properly, I should be there as a holdover.”
In papers filed in Newark Superior Court, Aloia alleges the township only advertised its director of law position as a township-employee position, but Parlavecchio is a non-employee.

Aloia had posted the job advertisement himself and was the only person to submit an application for it.
He also alleges the council violated the Open Public Meetings Act by dismissing him without the opportunity for a public hearing, and by hiring his replacement without public discussion.

Finally, Aloia alleges the council violated the “pay for play” law by failing to obtain from Parlavecchio any documentation of a $500 donation he made to Mayor Michael Venezia’s re-election campaign. A campaign donation of more than $300 must be reported if the applicant to a professional service position is to be paid more than $17,500.

Aloia also said it appeared that the township was acknowledging its violation of pay-to-play laws because he had seen on its website an advertisement for township attorney. The advertisement did not say an applicant would be a township employee but requested applicants from established law firms.

In a letter from Township Administrator Matthew Watkins to the mayor, council, assistant Township Attorney Steve Martino and Ramon Rivera, the township labor attorney, Watkins said that by changing the nature of the position of township attorney from an employee to a professional contract, “it may be argued that there was a procedural error.” He said he was reposting the position and preparing an ordinance to change the position of the job.

“After discussion with our attorneys, we posted a new RFP for Township Attorney and you will consider the appointment in order to eliminate the objections.” Watkins said. “I DO NOT want to prolong a senseless litigation, therefore, we have taken this action. Mr. Parlavecchio took his action accordingly.”

Watkins attached Parlavecchio’s letter of resignation. That letter thanked the township for appointing the firm, but acknowledged that procedural errors to the resolution and approval process had been raised.

“In an effort to make it easier for the council to address and resolve these objections, the firm of Bevan, Mosca and Giuditta is withdrawing as township attorney at this time.”

Aloia had said he was extremely surprised to learn he was no longer the township attorney. He had not attended the Feb. 1 council meetings, two being scheduled that night, a conference meeting followed by a regular meeting.
“I received a phone call saying the mayor had stated I wasn’t the township attorney,” he said.

Aloia contacted Township Administrator Watkins the morning of Feb. 2 regarding his employment status. But Watkins had no information for him.

Later in the day, Aloia emailed Watkins: “I understand that at last night’s conference meeting, in closed session, a motion was made to reappoint me as township attorney and it resulted in a tie vote. However, without proper advertisement, or otherwise being made part of the agenda, a motion was made during the regular meeting to appoint either a firm or another person as township attorney. This has not been made clear to me.”

Aloia said he understood the vote was 3-2-2 to replace him and he wanted to know from Watkins his employment status since in the morning he had no information.

Several hours later, Watkins responded by email, first thanking Aloia for his patience: “To be clear and simple, the Township Council did vote in open session to appoint Bevan, Mosca and Giuditta firm as the township attorney. Michael Parlavecchio will be serving for the firm. Therefore, your appointment has ended.”

Aloia said before the Feb. 1 appointment, the council had never discussed changing the township attorney for a township employee position to a non-employee position. He said this poses several problems for the township.

One was that there was no ordinance in place to pay a non-employee township attorney a retainer fee. He also said the Law Division would have to be reorganized if a non-employee was its director, as he was. Aloia said that, by law, a non-employee cannot supervise township employees.

“The majority of the council didn’t remove me,” he said. “It was a minority. Procedurally, I don’t think that was appropriate.”
In a telephone interview on Tuesday, following Parlavecchio’s resignation, Aloia said he did not know why Parlavecchio resigned but it was his belief that his appointment was in violation of pay for play.

“His resignation has no affect on my litigation until the council has a valid appointment following pay for play and other laws,” Aloia said.

Lopez, in a telephone interview Tuesday, March 1, following the resignation, said he had voted against appointing Parlavecchio because of the “pay of play” violation and because there was no fair and open process in considering applicants.
“The last time we considered other attorneys, we interviewed others,” he said. “Not this year.”

Lopez also said there was no evaluation of Aloia’s performance that might warrant a change.
“No one was complaining,” he said. “It appeared they were doing this, putting in Parlavecchio, for political reasons.”
Parlavecchio currently is the counsel to the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders.