Princeton Borough Councilman Questions Legal Fees


Princeton Borough Councilman Kevin Wilkes questioned major cost overruns for lawyers that were slated to be approved by the governing body Tuesday night.

The Borough Council was slated to vote on amending the contract for  Borough law firm Hill Wallack. The proposed contract amendment increased the payment cap for 2012 to $245,000,  a $70,000 increase over what was budgeted for the year.

“How did we exceed our legal budget by that much?” Wilkes asked. “What do we have to show our citizens for their $245,000?”

“You are asking the wrong person,” Mayor Yina Moore said. “Part of the service might be dedicated to work on the (consolidation) transition. There were some expenses that were not expected as part of the original contract when it was signed.”

Wilkes, who is no longer on the Borough finance committee, asked for an overview of the legal expenses, but no one could give him answers. Administrator Bob Bruschi could not attend the meeting.

“No one can say why, and there is no itemization here. I can’t support this,” Wilkes said. “I seem to recall  an excoriating lecture by David Goldfarb last year about how it was illegal to exceed our legal budget. We said we would let it slide just that once and never do it again. Here we are a year later. The next contract on the agenda is far worse.”

Councilwoman Jo Butler said the Borough had to deal with many land use issues over the last year, including AvalonBay and the service business zone in the Olive May area of Nassau Street.

Wilkes also questioned an amendment to a second legal contract that would increase the cap for the special counsel to the Borough on transit issues. The Borough originally budgeted $15,000 for Stephen Barcan of Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer to serve as the lawyer for transit issues. The revised contract on the agenda Tuesday called for a cap of $58,000.

“We spent $58,000 to stab Princeton University in the eye over the rail transit zone, and what do we have to show for that?” Wilkes said.

Councilwoman Jenny Crumiller said she thought part of the cost could have been because of the university’s public records request for elected officials’ emails with the group Save the Dinky regarding the school’s arts and transit project.

Wilkes also demanded to know how much money was spent on the proposed transit only zone. Some officials sought to change the zoning to preserve the existing Dinky train right of way for future transit, but the attempt was unsuccessful.

The Council tabled the second contract until more information is provided.