Jersey City Assistant City Attorney Norma Garcia told the Jersey City Council at the March 27 meeting that the city’s legal counsel will no longer answer legal questions raised by the public during council meetings.
Garcia said it was the job of her department to write ordinances and resolutions, but not to defend or to offer opinions about their content.
This announcement came near the end of the public meeting when many members of the public had left. But the declaration raised concerns among at least four council people about the legal department’s unwillingness to respond to the public’s questions.
The legal team, along with Business Administrator Brian Platt, represents the mayor’s office at public meetings. Council President Ronaldo Lavarro warned the legal team that the council could delay ordinances and other matters if public questions are not answered.
Platt defended the position, saying his office as well as the legal department answers council questions during the council caucus meetings. But Platt seemed reluctant to provide responses to questions raised by the public during public meetings.
Lavarro, along with Councilmen Michael Yun and Richard Boggiano, said they might vote against ordinances and resolutions if answers are not supplied.
Boggiano, who had been critical of accepting legal opinions from a staff representing the mayor, said he had long advocated for the council having its own attorney.
In a statement, Mayor Steven Fulop blamed the conflict on Lavarro.
“Councilman Lavarro is frustrated with the Administration as he has been trying to push a massive pay increase for himself, and the Mayor has not been supportive,” this statement said. “The bottom line is that the Fulop Administration has always prioritized resident engagement, and that won’t change regardless of Councilman Lavarro’s baiting.”
Lavarro responded, “The mayor’s response has nothing to do with the question. The request for the public’s questions to be answered was reasonable.”
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