Mason on Condon Controversy
Tonight’s City Council Meeting just got more interesting. Second ward Councilwoman Beth Mason will offer this resolution for a vote tonight following Hoboken411’s expose of Councilmen Ravi Bhalla and Peter Cunningham’s connections to attorney Paul Condon:
RESOLUTION INVALIDATING APPOINTMENT OF PAUL CONDON, ESQ. AS SPECIAL LEGAL COUNSEL TO THE CITY OF HOBOKEN DUE TO CONFLICTS OF INTEREST AMONG MEMBERS OF THE CITY COUNCIL
WHEREAS, at the February 17, 2010 meeting of the Hoboken City Council, the Council was presented by the Zimmer Administration with a resolution to approve a professional services contract for special legal counsel with Paul Condon, Esq. to handle “special matters involving the Police Department”, and,
WHEREAS, this contract may result in the payment of up to twenty-nine thousand of our tax dollars to Mr. Condon, and,
WHEREAS, when the Council voted to approve the resolution at the February 17 meeting, it was not provided with critical information that would have influenced the Council’s decision whether or not to approve a contract with Mr. Condon, and,
WHEREAS, specifically, the Council was not made aware of a close business relationship between Mr. Condon and a sitting member of the Council, Ravinder Bhalla, in that Mr. Condon and Mr. Bhalla share a law office and appear to divide between themselves many of the costly expenses of operating their respective legal practices, and,
WHEREAS, this close business relationship means that Mr. Bhalla has a direct financial interest in the success of Mr. Condon’s legal practice in order to avoid having to pay these costs alone, which creates a clear conflict of interest under the Local Government Ethics Act, and,
WHEREAS, despite this obvious conflict of interest, Mr. Bhalla not only intentionally failed to disclose this close relationship with Mr. Condon to the Council, he failed to remove himself from the Council dais during the discussion over Mr. Condon’s contract and then improperly cast a vote in favor of the contract to financially benefit his officemate and ultimately, himself, and,
WHEREAS, it also appears that there are close business ties between Mr. Condon’s wife and the wife of Council President Peter Cunningham, as Mrs. Condon and Mrs. Cunningham work together at the same real estate agency, and have been reported to jointly market real estate on a regular basis, yet this relationship as well was not disclosed by Councilman Cunningham and presents, at a minimum, the appearance of a conflict-of-interest, if not an actual conflict, and,
WHEREAS, the very close ties between the Condons and Cunninghams are further demonstrated by $1,250 in political contributions from the Condon family to Councilman Cunningham’s election fund, and,
WHEREAS, these contributions to Councilman Cunningham may have caused a violation of Hoboken’s pay-to-play ordinance, which could disqualify Mr. Condon from receiving a professional services contract from the City, and Council has not been properly advised as to whether Mr. Condon is eligible to continue to provide legal services to the City, and,
WHEREAS, all of the above means that the February 17th vote approving Mr. Condon’s contract was hopelessly tainted and must be deemed invalid, and,
WHEREAS, if the Administration believes Mr. Condon’s services are necessary and deserving of a contract from the City, it must resolve the pay-to-play question and if he is found eligible to receive this contract, the Council must revote on his appointment with Councilman Bhalla and Councilman Cunningham recusing themselves as they should have done in the first place.
NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED AS FOLLOWS:
- The Council’s vote to approve a professional services contract with Paul Condon on February 17, 2010 is hereby invalidated and any contractual relationship resulting from that vote is immediately terminated.
- The Corporation Counsel’s office is directed to advise the Council as soon as possible as to whether the political contributions from the Condons to Councilman Cunningham establish a violation of the City’s pay-to-play ordinance.
- The Council calls upon Councilman Bhalla and Councilman Cunningham to abide by their ethical responsibilities and recuse themselves if Mr. Condon’s contract appears on any future Council agendas.
See Mason’s original press release after the break…
Mason issues release; No official comment yet from POG
Reaction is rolling in to Hoboken411’s exclusive Friday evening investigative report on Councilmen Ravi Bhalla and Peter Cunnigham’s conflicted vote to award a no-bid legal contract to attorney Paul Condon.
2nd Ward Councilwoman Beth Mason sent the following press release today:
Beth Mason calls for Hoboken Special Counsel Paul Condon to resign immediately and for state investigation of blatant conflicts of interest.
Hoboken, NJ- Councilwoman Beth Mason is calling for newly appointed Special Legal Counsel Paul Condon to resign after reports surfaced that Councilmen Ravi Bhalla and Peter Cunningham voted to approve his no-bid contract despite conflicts of interest.
“Both Councilmen Bhalla and Cunningham chose to vote for Paul Condon’s no-bid contract despite being previously warned about their obvious conflicts of interest,” Mason said. “Councilman Bhalla and Mr. Condon rent the same law office on River Street and share operating expenses totaling tens of thousands of dollars. If Mr. Condon can’t pay his share of those expenses, this directly affects Councilman Bhalla’s personal finances. This is one of the most blatant conflicts of interest I have ever seen.”
Mason says she is also “very concerned” about Bhalla’s claim that Corporation Counsel Michael Kates told him he could vote for Condon’s contract. “I am very interested in learning how any qualified and impartial attorney could not see this blatant conflict of interest.”
Mason says that the matter should be investigated by the New Jersey State Division of Local Government Services and the New Jersey Bar Association. The councilwoman adds that if Condon does not resign she will introduce a resolution to fire him at the next council meeting and consider taking legal action on her own.
Mason believes that Cunningham’s vote for the Condon appointment violates “at least the spirit” if not the letter of the Hoboken pay to play ordinance because Condon and Cunningham’s wives have a business relationship, jointly offering and marketing real estate. Condon also made a $750 contribution to Cunningham’s council campaign.
Condon would not have received a $29,000 no-bid contract for special legal services without the votes of both councilmen. The council can also vote to increase the contract at any time.
“Situational Ethics” and “Cronyism” Criticized
Mason says the Condon appointment is the latest example of the “situational ethics” problems that are plaguing Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s administration. Mason says that a large number of people who made large campaign contributions to Zimmer have received high paying jobs or important appointments from the mayor’s administration.
“I ask that Mayor Zimmer, who recommended Mr. Condon for the position of Special Counsel, join me now in asking for his resignation. The Mayor and her City Council majority must not refuse to give the people of Hoboken the open, honest government they deserve. This cronyism is nothing more than business as usual in Hoboken politics and certainly not the kind of government they promised,” said Mason.
Hoboken411 reached out to People for Open Government President Alice Crozier for reaction to the story, and received this message today:
“Although many members of POG have been e-mailing each other over the weekend about the statements in the Hoboken 411 piece on the Condon contract, there will no official comment on these issues until POG has an opportunity to do the necessary research. Since your piece was posted on Friday, today is the first time anyone can even start on such an investigation. You will hear from us in due course.”
– Alice Crozier
When POG is prepared to make an official statement following its due diligence, Hoboken411 will bring it to you.