Thursday, June 22, 2006

DeFilippo - Ledger - Hillside planning chair blasts firing of attorney Nathaniel Davis

Published in the Star-Ledger, Thursday, June 22, 2006

Planning board chief confronts council
Hillside chairwoman blasts firing of attorney Nathaniel Davis

Star-Ledger Staff

The Hillside planning board chairwoman called an executive meeting last night and essentially told the township council to keep its hands off her panel.

In what is likely her last official act before a July 5 municipal government reorganization, Myrna Weissman charged the township council acted illegally in attempt ing to replace the planning board attorney. That attorney, Nathaniel Davis, has filed notice to sue the township.

Weissman began a prepared statement as if addressing Edward Cooper, the Linden attorney hired by the township council in February to replace Davis. Davis attended the meeting. Cooper did not.

"Mr. Cooper, you are not our board attorney," she said. "I am going on record that the attorney sitting here has not been approved by this board and is in violation of the law."

In March, both Davis and Cooper arrived for the planning board meeting, and that session turned heated.

Two members, Radomir Vlaisavljevic and Leonard Gilbert, charged Davis was being replaced because his hiring last July for a yearly term violated the state "pay to play" law.

Mayor Karen McCoy-Oliver, who sits on the planning board, and the six other board members were unaware of the change in at torneys and protested the council intervention.

Gilbert had only recently joined the planning board, with the township council abruptly appointing him to replace mayoral ally Joseph Pinckney as the governing body's representative on the panel. Vlaisavljevic is the husband of the township clerk.

Weissman charged yesterday the attorney switch stemmed from a power struggle between the mayor and township officials loyal to Hillside Democratic Municipal Chairwoman Charlotte DeFilippo. She called the change an ill-aimed attack on McCoy-Oliver, stressing the planning board, not the mayor, appointed Davis.

DeFilippo has said her involvement in the matter consisted of a phone call to the Union County Bar Association asking for the recommendation of an attorney. She was then given Cooper's name.

Last month, Cooper said he was unknowingly brought into the fray, and was awaiting some resolution.

Davis, whose office is in Newark, filed suit against the officials who alleged his hiring by the planning board was improper.

"I felt someone had slandered me," he said. "I did not violate any pay-to-play law."

Weissman defended the planning board against such an asser tion by two members closely aligned with the Democratic Party.

"This is not a pay-for-play issue," she said. "First of all, we didn't have enough meetings for Mr. Davis to even come close to the realm of making decent fees this year."

Jason Jett reports on Hillside. He may be contacted at jjett@starled or (908) 302-1509.

N.B. Under item II on Plainfield City Council agenda for Monday, June 19, 2006 is the following entry: "Correspondence dated May 25, 2006 addressed to Corporation Counsel Williamson from Nathaniel Davis, Esq., tenderinghis resignation as Municipal Court prosecutor effective immediately. Letter of resignation will remain on file in the City Clerk's office."

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Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.