Because of questions raised by government watchdog Steve Fitzpatrick, the Red Bank Council has taken Pringle, Quinn & Anzana, its contracted law firm, off “the long-festering” case of 51 Monmouth Street, in the words of Mayor Pasquale Menna.
In place of firm attorneys Ken Pringle and Tom Hall, the council earlier this week named attorney John Bonnello of Mann & Bonello in Long Branch to handle the work. He’ll be paid the same hourly rate the Pringle firm was getting, said Menna.
Hall has been looking into the terms of the $1 transaction in which Kids Bridge, a precursor to the Community YMCA‘s Children’s Cultural Center, bought the longtime borough hall at 51 Monmouth Street in 2000.
The matter flared up not long after the Y put the building up for sale for $2.55 million a year ago. Questions arose about the terms of the deal that were meant to prevent such a sale but appear to have been dropped in the final paperwork.
In addition, the Y and the borough have exchanged charges and countercharges over monies owed from repair work on the borough-owned Relief Engine Company firehouse, which is attached the cultural center building.
The change in attorneys handling the case was endorsed by Menna not because of any actual conflict, but to avoid the appearance of such, he said.
“It would be safer to provide transparency to any action taken by the council,” he said.
According to Fitzpatrick, the firm’s lobbying arm represents Meridian in Trenton. Meridian, he said, gave $50,000 toward the launch of what later became known as the cultural center, and both Meridian CEO John Lloyd and Riverview President Tim Hogan sit on the board of directors of the Y the borough’s potential adversary should threatened lawsuits be filed.
For Fitzpatrick, a soft-spoken retired fireman, this is the second victory of sorts in recent weeks. Earlier this month, he persuaded Menna to direct the planning board to re-do a public hearing on recommended changes to the borough master plan because the first one was poorly attended.
“It’s a tough, long process,” he says of his digging into various matters at borough hall. “You just gotta keep plugging away.”
He credits Menna for “attempting to put some transparency into the process” of governance. He said the mayor “has acknowledged that the appearance of a conflict is as important as the reality” of one, a widely accepted legal standard.
This is the second time in recent years that the Pringle firm has run into conflict of interest questions well after it began work on a case for the borough.
In December 2007, the firm recused itself from a pending tax appeal settlement with Verizon after a redbankgreen reader tipped us off that the firm’s lobbying arm represented the phone giant in Trenton.
Pringle said at the time that he and Hall “simply forgot” that they had previously recused themselves in Verizon business before the the council and neglected to check with the firm’s lobbying office to see if the company was still a client