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Mayor: No Conflict of Interest on Solicitor Appointment

Mayor Stacey Jordan says the appointment of PREIT's attorney as the township attorney won't represent a conflict of interest.

New Mayor Stacey Jordan insisted there won’t be any conflicts of interest after township council’s decision to hire an attorney who also represents Moorestown’s largest taxpayer.

Town council voted unanimously last week to appoint Capehart Scatchard attorney Anthony Drollas, replacing former solicitor Tom Coleman. Drollas also represents PREIT, owner of the Moorestown Mall.

PREIT and the township have been tied up in a longstanding appeal over the mall’s assessment for a few years. The property is valued at more than $110 million. PREIT CEO Joseph Coradino has previously stated the company believes the property is worth closer to $80 million.

Tax assessor Dennis DeKlerk said a settlement conference date has been scheduled for September of this year, with a preliminary trial date slated for January 2014.

Council appointed attorney Douglas Heinold as special counsel Monday night, specifically to handle tax appeals, negating any potential conflict of interest associated with Drollas’s appointment, according to Jordan.

She acknowledged the obvious issue of having Drollas represent the township in any matters that also involve PREIT, saying, “It is a conflict … That’s why Doug’s there. You always have another attorney there when conflicts come up.”

Jordan explained that she didn't want to have an open-ended contract with Heinold, so his appointment will expire on March 31. However, she said council could bring him back later in the year to handle the PREIT appeal, as well as any other legal matter involving the owners of the Moorestown Mall.

Heinold is a partner in the Raymond Coleman Heinold & Norman firm, along with former solicitor Coleman.

Council also raised some eyebrows when it appointed Drollas because of his firm’s ties to the Burlington County Republican Party through Capehart Scatchard partner, Glenn Paulsen, who formerly served as party chairman, according to the Burlington County Times.

But Jordan denied politics had anything to do with the appointment, insisting that the township simply went with the firm that had the most experience and the deepest bench.

“What it comes down to is that there were several members on council who wanted a bigger firm,” she said, adding that the fact the township had an especially litigious year in 2012 could have played into the decision as well.

Although Drollas’s contract calls for a rate of $150 an hour—$25 an hour more than Coleman’s old rate—Jordan said the legal services provided by Drollas and Capehart Scatchard are still a value because of the expertise, and efficiency, of the firm.

“We’re looking forward to working with Tony … and there’s no ill will with Tom. If there was, we wouldn’t be bringing back his firm,” she said. “We’re doing what we think is best for the town.”

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Tom January 15, 2013 at 01:29 PM
You get what you pay for and in politics you are not paying for better services, you are paying for access and favors. I read what RandyGTS posted. There is no question that Mr. Drollas is the more inexperienced attorney who somehow managed to get the job and be paid more. A $30 million difference in value? How much would that cost the town in taxes if Preit wins?
M'town Truth January 15, 2013 at 02:08 PM
Whether Jordan thinks it's a conflict of interest or not, an ethical attorney would immediately know that it IS a conflict of interest and decline the position. The optics are not good - and the smell is worse.
Observer January 15, 2013 at 02:21 PM
Why would a town hire someone who's firm was the root of the many problems we faced to begin with? Coleman's firm led our town down a few very bad paths, not the least of which was his opinion to deny the will of the voters and plow full steam ahead with raiding our Open Space funds. Thankfully, the new Council agreed - unanimously and in a bipartisan fashion - to kick Coleman to the curb in favor of the only other firm who placed a bid, one that happens to serve many more municipalities and have much more experience in local governance.
Molly Fi January 15, 2013 at 02:31 PM
Damn that Greg Newcomer and his Republican ways! Damn him! How dare he be so blatantly partisan and vote for this! How dare he be about hiring the Republican firm! How dare he .... Wait, what? Greg Newcomer is a .... Democrat? Oh. Whoops.
Tom January 15, 2013 at 02:36 PM
Whether they hired the prior solicitor back is not the issue especially on the open space issue which STEM lost if you have forgotten meaning Coleman was right whether I liked it or not. The issue is who should be the solicitor and out of all of the potential candidates, they chose the firm responsible for the liquor license referendum, the failed question 2 and Preits attorney for tax appeals. It's clear to me it is a payback. We need to follow the money.
Ogie Oglethorpe January 15, 2013 at 02:49 PM
This is what happens when the GOP in town decided that the sitting councel members should not be on the NOV ballot. What happens....the Dems are "lurking" and win a seat....Now it looks like GOP is playing political games. Don't you think the Dems in town are watching?!?!?! Commmon mannnn! GOP has gotta get it together!
Peter Palko January 15, 2013 at 03:40 PM
Tom, Excellent question which is why settling tax appeals was one of my #1 priorities if elected to council (I got a 4th place trophy) and I know other members of council that are equally on top of this. More seriously, I believe there is roughly $485M in total ratable appeals (our tax base is $4.6 billion in total assessed value so 10% in dispute) at the state level which would include this $30M. Assuming a tax rate of roughly $2/100, a $30M ratable reduction would result in the township losing $600k in tax revenue for every year since the appeal was first filed (I believe). For example, if the appeal was filed 4 years ago, a $2.4M tax credit would be due. Worse than losing the appeal, the township budget (15% of taxes) would have to pay 100% of the lost tax revenue back but I believe all other already paid expenses like schools (62% of taxes), county (15%), fire (2.5%), library (1.7%), open space (2.5%), etc would not be required to refund monies received. Therefore, the faster appeals get settled, the better for the township so we aren't collecting tax revenue, spending 85% of that money, and later having to repay it dollar for dollar. Again, one of the reasons I personnally supported locking up the liquor money in a vault in the event it was needed to pay this potential debt. Hope that answers your question and wasn't too confusing.
Tom January 15, 2013 at 04:46 PM
Pete, I appreciate your reply. What do you make of the timeline from the story - Tax assessor Dennis DeKlerk said a settlement conference date has been scheduled for September of this year, with a preliminary trial date slated for January 2014. Doesn't seem like there is any urgency. Also, I agree completely with you on the liquor money. Do your running mates feel the same way and will we be able to count on them to control it?
Just Askin January 15, 2013 at 05:16 PM
Any "real" readers want to weigh in? Right now it's all BG, other partisans, and people with an ax to grind because they were not reappointed.
Townie January 15, 2013 at 05:51 PM
There is no obvious reason that you would retain someone with potential conflicts when others are available. Sadly, this and the prior regime seem content to believe they're smarter than everyone else. People in town generally don't care, so the games continue. Only after the bill comes in....for town hall... for the appeal....for the new solicitor at 20% more...will more care. At that point it's too late....and those involved know that.
month to month January 15, 2013 at 06:13 PM
http://www.politickernj.com/burlco08/22516/burlington-gop-corruption-video-being-viewed-thousands Let’s take a closer look at Tony Drollas. His wife Grannia Drollas has served as a fundraising consultant for the party. She was paid over $17,000. In 2007, her pay from the party stopped. She was however, put on the payroll of the 8th District Republican Legislators. Just to recap – Tony Drollas works for Capehart & Scatchard, which does millions of dollars in Burlington County legal work. He signs a loan guaranteeing hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Republican Party. His wife gets put on a taxpayer funded Legislative payroll.
month to month January 15, 2013 at 07:11 PM
Wasn't Drollas also recently fired from Evesham for charging too much even after getting put in by the same powerbrokers? http://articles.philly.com/2009-07-06/news/25288758_1_pay-to-play-campaign-funds-contributions
Peter Palko January 15, 2013 at 07:21 PM
Tom, Here's my thoughts for what they are worth regarding timing. I would prefer to see this settled ASAP versus waiting for defense costs to rise not to mention another year goes by with the possibility that we lose at least a portion of the appeal (e.g. 50% of $30M) and have more to repay. Having been involved in commercial appeals myself, at the end of the day, the township and PREIT need to arrive at a mutually acceptable compromise so no need to waste time and money on attorney's more than necessary by going to trial. It's not brain surgery, pull comps for other malls like Cherry Hill and compare costs per SF. Get in a room and don't leave until a number is agreed upon. A benefit of delay would be as PREIT continues to improve the mall (e.g. new restaurants and movie theatres), its value should rise accordingly meaning better negotiation power for the township. My opinion is to get the top 5 or 10 largest appeals settled ASAP so council has certainty regarding future tax income so they can plan accordingly. In regard to my running mates, you may want to ask them directly but my experience is that they understand the importance of fiscal responsibility and not spending found money like the liquor revenues quickly. The key is making sure concerned folks like yourself continue to challenge spending and for them to make sure they have good information from our professionals and township employees to make informed decisions.
Shemp & Lerch January 16, 2013 at 08:23 PM
How in good conscience is Drollas going to handle the East Liquor application which he vehamently fought to defend his and Paulsens flawed question no. 2? also who will be handling PREITS liquor license tranfers, Drollas? More cost and a waste of time to just to bow down to the County. Stacy and Chris have turned there backs on this town.
in the cheap seats January 16, 2013 at 08:55 PM
This is unbelievable. After the lies we were all told about question 2 being only at the mall just to get liquor and the mall having millions in outstanding tax appeals, the town rewards the mall and their attorney by putting him in charge of the town's legal work. Shame on them! How long do you think the liquor money they paid will find its way back home and our taxes will go up.
Ogie Oglethorpe January 17, 2013 at 08:14 PM
Yeah....but we have booze....who cares how we got it! There should not have even been a question #2. And that liquor money is in a special "lock box" and it will be put to good use. The town has to believe it, since they voted for this council.
Hugh G. Knockers January 17, 2013 at 08:34 PM
There is no such thing....This site is for ax grinding and people to take anonymous jabs at one another without having the repercussion of knowing who is doing it. Right?
Myron Odegaard January 17, 2013 at 08:52 PM
I'm glad the idiot law firm screwed this up so Hooters can open up in East Gate! Wings, beers, broads & hockey!! Sounds good eh
Another Pitcher January 17, 2013 at 09:13 PM
Oh, I thought chickie and Pete's
Hugh G. Knockers January 18, 2013 at 02:17 PM
Oh man..... a Hooters in East Gate for me would be like a Sweedes Run Barn in every open field for the sentimental Moorestonian!.....I love supporting young students working their way through college!
The Most Interesting Man in MTown January 18, 2013 at 03:13 PM
Hey "Another"....would you rather change the name to "PETE and Chickies'"??? I don't normally like getting crabs....but when I do I prefer to get them after a late night of drinking.....Stay itchy my friends.....
Gluten free cookies January 20, 2013 at 02:57 PM
Is it the case that all liquor establishments must close by midnight? Is there a curfew when these places will close? Did any deals or rules made when operating hours are? We can't have people looming around the mall or east gate late at night. A sports swinger or biker bar , or hotterz etc would play here. What are the rules?
RANDYGTS January 20, 2013 at 04:20 PM
Are you serious???? That's probably just what PREIT plans to do -- ruin their entire mall by having a biker bar with people hanging around at all hours of the day and night. I'm sure that's why they are investing so heavily in the new movie theater and restaurants.
Honest Government May 03, 2013 at 01:08 AM
Capehart received a 20% increase in hourly rate over the past solicitor's rate. Coincidentally or not, Capehart donated substantial funds to County Republican PACs/Election Funds that then spent monies on the local Moorestown Council race when the election tightened up. They were appointed nearly 4 months ago and have yet to submit a bill for services. What are they hiding? Both Democrats and Republicans ran on the issue of transparency. We as Democrats are now asking the Republicans to demand timely billing for services. By doing such, the residents of Moorestown will be able to see issues that are being worked on and also determine if there are any conflicts of interests. Please join us in asking to see the bills now.
Froggie May 03, 2013 at 01:49 AM
We just read where Mr. Drollas was made the town utility attorney too so now he can double charge us. When do these Republicans stop the party crap and do what is best for the citizens. We need an investgation into this. Where is the reporting on this and them spending all the Capehart booze money to hide their spending spree on the $20 million town hall debacle. They also appointed the town hall architect to be the Planning Board expert as payback. Shameful
kristen babcock May 03, 2013 at 02:24 AM
for anyone who isn't sure about this, it IS a conflict of interest. Very upsetting.
Honest Government May 03, 2013 at 03:10 AM
Capehart's 115 days without submitting a bill limits the ability of Moorestown to do realistic budgeting.
Deeply Concerned May 03, 2013 at 09:25 AM
Our esteemed council can't seem to cut any expenses, yet spend profligately on council with serious conflicts of interest. Look for serious tax increases next year.
HULK May 03, 2013 at 01:37 PM
WHO DELETE HULK POST AND VIOLATE 1ST AMENDMENT RIGHT? HULK REPOST IT HULK SMASH ANYONE WHO ATTACK COUNCIL. HULK NOT KNOW WHAT PROLIGATELY MEAN.
Honest Government May 04, 2013 at 01:37 AM
Capehart's 116 days without submitting a bill limits the ability of Moorestown to do realistic budgeting.

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