Dear Editor: Following is a letter four members of the City Council have addressed to Mayor Dawn Zimmer and Councilman Ravi Bhalla:
As you are aware, The Hoboken Reporter and Hoboken411 recently reported that Councilman Ravi Bhalla serves as your attorney in a personal legal matter. The New Jersey Government Ethics Law states, “no local government officer shall engage in any business, transaction, or professional activity, which is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his/her duties in the public interest.” Councilman Bhalla serving as your attorney appears to be a violation of state law.
This representation raises significant questions as to whether Councilman Bhalla, who until last month was Council President, has a conflict of interest between his duties as an elected representative of Hoboken residents and his duties as your private attorney. It also erases the line that serves as a check and balance between Hoboken’s executive and legislative branches of government which creates an arms-length relationship between the mayor and City Council.
You and Councilman Bhalla have a duty to the public to explain your relationship. Accordingly, we hereby request that you and/or Councilman Bhalla answer the following questions prior to the next City Council meeting:
1. Please explain in full detail the nature of Councilman Bhalla’s representation of you and Stanley Grossbard.
2. Have you paid for his services? If so, how much have you paid and were you charged a reasonable and customary rate?
3. If his services were pro-bono does the value of his services exceed the $25 limit your executive order on ethics sets for elected officials and city employees?
4. How long has Mr. Bhalla represented you and Mr. Grossbard?
5. Does Councilman Bhalla understand he has an ethical obligation to you and Stanley Grossbard in his private capacity as an attorney to act only in their best interests?
6. Does Councilman Bhalla understand he has an ethical obligation to the city in his capacity as an elected councilman to act only in the city’s best interests?
7. Are you and Councilman Bhalla familiar with the portion of the Local Government Ethics Law that states: “No local government officer shall engage in any business, transaction, or professional activity, which is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his/her duties in the public interest?”
8. How can the public trust that decisions made by Councilman Bhalla were in the best interest of the city?
9. How can the public trust that when you and your administration bring a matter before the City Council that Councilman Bhalla will only consider the public’s interests rather that the interests of you as his client?
10. By way of this letter we wish to ask Councilman Bhalla what other legal representations during his term in office has he been or is currently engaged with other Hoboken council members, elected officials, city employees, commissioners/board members and their family members.
Thank you for your cooperation in this matter.
Councilwoman Theresa Castellano, 1st Ward
Councilwoman Elizabeth Mason, 2nd Ward
Councilman Michael Russo, 3rd Ward
Councilman Timothy Occhiptinti, 4th Ward