Council members question Zimmer - Bhalla legal ties
Sep 02, 2012 | 2174 views | 4 4 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print

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.

Sincerely,
Councilwoman Theresa Castellano, 1st Ward
Councilwoman Elizabeth Mason, 2nd Ward
Councilman Michael Russo, 3rd Ward
Councilman Timothy Occhiptinti, 4th Ward

Comments
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ss1959
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September 22, 2012
The legally incompetent minority rises once again. The letter states: "which is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his/her duties in the public interest.”

For the record Mayor Zimmer did not employ Ravi Bhalla for anything to do with public interest. It had to do with personal matter, a leak in her home's roof which has nothing to do with the operations of the city of Hoboken.

This not the first time, they illegally cut the pay of a former Corporate Counsel by unilaterally breaking his contract. They also tried tried to enforce parking by resolution (Corner Cars) when state law says it must be done by ordinance. Then there was incompetent Tim trying to enact ethic rules which is also contrary to state law.

BusterL8
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September 03, 2012
This was also reported elsewhere too. I agree with the commenter that this is an apt comparison because both things are technically legal but give the appearance of a damaging impropriety that could give someone undue influence on another person's vote, except in this case Beth is not a member of a seperate branch of government that should keep separate. Since many people have complained about what Beth did, I am waiting for those people to also deconstruct or give the justification for this apparent conflict as well, which as you point out is comparable. Then we can go from there.
DancingRudy
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September 04, 2012
Buster I'm missing the part where anyone said the two circumstances were "comparable." They are not. Zimmer apparently hired Bhalla to handle a small legal matter having nothing to do with either's public responsibilities. This raises no ethics or legal "issues" except transparently contrived ones.

Mason appears to have bought the council presidency for a large cash payment. If the deal for TimO's vote was cut at the time the money was promised or paid then that is not "technically" legal. It is a serious crime. The same crime Peter Cammarano went to jail for. Unfortunately, since the conversations weren't videotaped like Cammarano's were we have no way of knowing whether Mason and Tim got away with an actual crime, or whether all they got away with a really stinky unethical transaction that ought to be a crime.
ArtNudge
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September 02, 2012
In the very first sentence it says "Hoboken411 recently reported that Councilman Ravi Bhalla serves as your attorney in a personal legal matter."

Assuming that Hoboken411 is accurate, and that Ravi is help Mayor Zimmer on a personal legal matter, it is personal, not a government or city issue. Therefore, how can there be any conflict of interest?

Also, while we are on the subject of potential conflicts of interest, I expect that next week we will see a similar letter asking Beth Mason if giving 10s of thousands of dollars to other City Council Candidates (See Tim Occipinti)to pay for people to vote for him by mail, would compromise their independence.