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Towns Legal Billing Practices Under the Microscope [AUDIO]

Last week, New Jersey Comptroller Matt Boxer released a report revealing repeated waste of taxpayer dollars on excessive or improper payments for legal services, including one town that paid a salary for an attorney with no job duties at all.

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Now, a trio of lawmakers is pushing a new bill that will codify the Boxer’s recommendations for fixing the problem.

“This bill ensures that we hold school districts accountable for their billing practices,” says State Sen. Jennifer Beck. “As we all work to tighten our belts and rein in spending, transparency throughout is key. The comptroller’s recommendations were all sound ones and will help to curb excessive spending on legal fees while creating a more fluid process for the districts involved.”

Some Boxer’s suggestions for local government units (LGUs) to follow include: conducting a competitive procurement for legal counsel; drafting and executing formal, written contracts with legal counsel hired; developing policies and procedures regarding the use and management of legal counsel; and how the contracts will be managed.

“It is disappointing to learn of the lax oversight regarding the billing practices by the towns and school districts for legal services included in the comptroller’s report,” says Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini. Provisions of the contract were not well known, enforced or overlooked……Codifying these recommendations will make those responsible for paying bills that taxpayers are getting the services for which they have contracted.”

In North Bergen, Boxer and his team of investigators found a salaried attorney with a no-work job.

Township officials couldn’t provide any information on the job responsibilities of the lawyer who was being paid an $18,800 salary plus health benefits and participation in the state pension system. When first questioned, township officials said they were unsure if the attorney in question served as the town’s Alcohol Beverage Control Board attorney or as its Tenant Advocate.

“The same standard of accountability that is demanded in the private sector applies to public employees,” insists Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande. “Establishing a best practices approach is a good start at correcting this costly waste of taxpayer funds, but we need to put more teeth into getting across the message that there can be no lapses in supervising the due diligence requirement of contracts where taxpayer dollars foot the bill.”

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