Township council had hoped to resolve the longstanding matter of funding the fields projects Monday night, but was thwarted at the 11th hour by the threat of a lawsuit.
Mayor John Button opened the meeting explaining council had received a letter only an hour or so before threatening an “immediate injunction” against the township if it passed a resolution authorizing the use of the Open Space, Recreation, Farmland and Historic Preservation Trust Fund to pay for field improvements at .
Township attorney Thomas Coleman said the letter was addressed to the township by the Baron & Brennan law firm out of Voorhees, who are representing an “association of Moorestown residents,” none of whom are named in the letter.
“I take the threat seriously,” Coleman told council, going on to say one of his major concerns would be the potential for a second lawsuit from the contractor for the Wesley Bishop project “who doesn’t want to hear he’s not going to be paid” as a result of the first lawsuit.
Coleman suggested council seek a declaratory judgment from Superior Court Judge Ronald Bookbinder () on the legality of using the Trust Fund for the fields so the township can “get an answer once and for all.”
Coleman has repeatedly advised council the use of the Trust Fund for the fields projects is an allowed use.
The council members then debated, somewhat vigorously, their next move. , since Bookbinder probably wouldn’t deliver a judgment until late summer anyway, according to Coleman.
“If this goes into July and August, we’ve clearly lost the season,” Jordan said. “Priority one is town hall. I don’t think we should be wasting our time on this.”
Deputy Mayor Greg Gallo fired back that delaying a decision, once again, would be a disservice to all the people who’ve invested their time in this project.
“To say, ‘Let’s put it off till next spring,’ it’ll never get done,” he said. “We owe it (to everyone) to either do it or move on.”
The back-and-forth continued, with Councilman Mike Testa lamenting that —from sponsorships and other contributions—could be lost if the project doesn’t get done or is delayed.
Jordan dug in, accusing the other council members of acting like “the 5-year-olds I used to take care of … throwing a temper tantrum, telling me we have to do this, hoping I’ll change my mind. I’m not going to change my mind.”
Councilman Chris Chiacchio backed up Jordan, suggesting the ongoing debate “”—a comment that was met up with applause from the audience.
Ultimately, the council members—as always on this matter—agreed to disagree on the merits of using the Trust Fund to pay for the fields.
If the township seeks a declaratory judgment, and if Bookbinder rules in the township’s favor, Coleman said it’s almost certain they’d have to rebid the project anyway.
Button advised Coleman to seek further clarity from Baron & Brennan and their unnamed plaintiffs, though Coleman said he wasn’t sure how much more clarity he’d be able to get.
“Respectfully, the letter is pretty clear,” Coleman said.
Nonetheless, council held off on any further action and tabled a vote. However, Button indicated it’s very likely they’ll hold a special meeting to revisit the matter before the next regular meeting on June 11.
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