Tabernacle Hires Public Safety Director, Amends 2018 Budget. Attorney-Client Privilege?

Attorney-Client PrivAt the June 4, 2018 Special Meeting, the committee passed a resolution appointing a public safety director; declined to appoint a permanent chief financial officer and amended the proposed budget to reduce the municipal contribution to the Tabernacle Rescue Squad.

PUBLIC SAFETY DIRECTOR

Public Safety subcommittee members, Joseph Yates and
Deputy Mayor Stephen Lee, reported that many highly qualified people applied to be Tabernacle’s public safety director. They described the final five candidates as very strong.

They recommended the appointment of Arch Liston, resident of Southampton Township, who they said, “clearly stood out.” They pointed to Mr. Liston’s public safety experience starting as a Mount Holly police officer and reaching the position of police chief. They also described Mr. Liston’s experience as Atlantic City’s business administrator. They said the blend of his experience made him the best choice for Tabernacle.

Mr. Liston’s administrative experience is actually more extensive than the subcommittee reported. He also served as Hoboken’s business administrator as it transitioned from state fiscal control; as Bridgeton’s business administrator when it was in the state’s “Distressed Cities program; and as Galloway Township’s business administrator.

Welcome aboard Mr. Liston. We wish you a productive tenure in Tabernacle Township.

CERTIFIED FINANCIAL OFFICER

The Committee didn’t appoint a new certified financial officer to replace Terry Henry, who is retiring as of July 1, 2017. Subcommittee member Kim Brown reported that there were 19 applicants, but only two or three met the requirements. Ms. Brown said that she was uncomfortable recommending a candidate from such a small pool. Instead, she recommended that the township hire a temporary CFO and re-advertise for a permanent replacement. The committee agreed.

2018 TOWNSHIP BUDGET

The proposed budget amendment showed a $63,837 reduction from the amount to be raised by taxes. This amount represents a penny on Tabernacle’s municipal tax rate and, if adopted, would result in no municipal tax increase. This doesn’t address taxes levied by Burlington County, theTabernacle School District or the Lenape Regional School District.

The committee’s discussion focused on Tabernacle’s $35,000 annual cash contribution to the Tabernacle Rescue Squad. An amendment to reduce this amount to $12,000 was defeated at the May 21, meeting. A majority of the entire committee (3) was needed to adopt that budget amendment. Committee member Brown opposed the reduction. Because only three members were present, including Ms. Brown who opposed it, the amendment failed.

At the June 4 meeting, committee members Franzen and Brown proposed a reduction from $35,000 to $22,000. This proposal was defeated by a 3-2 vote.

Committee member Yates and Deputy Mayor Lee again proposed to reduce the township’s contribution to $12,000. Mr. Yates explained that for years, Tabernacle has been giving the TRS more than it needs to cover the costs of uninsured residents. And TRS should have given the unused portion back to the township. Ms. Brown replied that the annual contribution was unconditional and that the TRS was entitled to keep any extra money.

Mayor Barton added that the new public safety director will be examining the finances and operations of all emergency service providers to see how to best manage and provide services. He also said that if there are surplus insurance revenues, they should be considered as the township’s contribution.

The reduction from $35,000 to $12,000 was approved by a 3-2 vote.

TABERNACLE TOWNSHIP ATTORNEY INVOICES

During public comment, resident Stuart Brooks returned to the question of why Township Attorney Peter Lange’s invoices don’t identify the matters that he works on and don’t itemize the services he performs or the time he spends doing each service.

This information is basic billing practice and recommended for all municipal attorneys by the New Jersey State Comptroller’s Office. Without this information, the township can’t be sure what it’s paying for.

I raised this issue at the May 21, 2018 meeting when I asked Mr. Lange to explain what his invoice entry “SSA Court” meant (April 19, 2018 Invoice, #5131).

Mr. Lange refused to answer, saying that an explanation was “…dangerously close to attorney-client privilege.”

He wouldn’t even clarify if this was Tabernacle’s shared services agreement with Woodland for court services. This seemed likely because Mr. Lange’s invoices had no other entry for the Woodland agreement, and the committee wouldn’t be so reckless to adopt this agreement without an attorney’s advice.

At the June 4 meeting, Stuart Brooks commented that the purpose of the attorney-client privilege is to encourage clients to communicate fully and freely with their attorney so that they get proper legal advice. Invoices aren’t advice and shouldn’t have privileged information in them.

Mr. Brooks also pointed out that if “SSA Court” referred to Mr. Lange’s work on Tabernacle’s shared services agreement with Woodland, then Tabernacle had waived any attorney-client privilege because both townships had already passed resolutions adopting the agreement, and Deputy Mayor Lee had already made extensive comments to Woodland Township to persuade it to adopt the agreement. He made his comments April 25, 2018, at the Woodland Township meeting, the same night Woodland approved the agreement.

Deputy Mayor Lee was upset by Mr. Brooks’s comments, but may have misunderstood the chronology. By the time that I asked Mr. Lange what “SSA Court” meant, both townships had already adopted resolutions to enter into the shared services agreement for municipal court, and the Deputy Mayor had already given his public comments about the agreement at the Woodland Township meeting.

It’s hard to see how an explanation of “SSA Court” would have compromised any communication between Township Attorney Peter Lange and the committee about a deal that was already done.

The refusal to explain a billing entry, under the guise of attorney-client privilege, is just concealment. The committee can do better and the public deserves better. Our elected officials, also, should require invoices that meet state standards.

The next township meeting will be held June 25, 2018, at 7:30 PM, at town hall.