New Point Boro Attorney Charging More than Quote from 2011 Attorney
But Jerry Dasti's experience makes him worth it, says GOP
Jerry Dasti, the new Point Borough attorney, is charging thousands more than the quote from last year's attorney, but he's worth it because he has more Borough and municipal experience, said Republican council members.
"Jerry Dasti is the best attorney for the town," said Republican councilman Robert Sabosik. "I have nothing but the best interests of the town at heart. We're not doing anything political."
Dasti, of the firm of Dasti, Murphy, McGuckin Ulaky, Cherkos and Connors, based in Lacey Township, will be paid a maximum of $79,850 for February through December, according to a copy of his contract. Dasti's original quote was a maximum of $93,500 for 12 months.
Dasti said in an interview last week that the fee of $79,850 will include any litigation work as well as attending council meetings and all other Borough business.
"That's for everything," he said.
Patch calculated the figure of $11,100 as follows:
Sabosik said that after negotiations for a lower fee, Dasti agreed to a maximum fee of $79,850 for the 11 month period of February through December, since he was not serving in the position during January.
The Starkey law firm had submitted a quote of a maximum of $75,000 for a 12 month period. That figure of $75,000 divided by 12 equals $6,250.
When $6,250 is multiplied by 11, representing the 11 months, it comes to $68,750, or $11,100 less than what Dasti is charging for the same 11-month period.
When asked about the difference, Sabosik said that according to his calculations, it's only about $10,000.
He also said several times that the Borough does not know yet how much Scott Kenneally, of the Starkey firm, charged for all of 2011 and this January because he had not yet submitted bills for December and January. Kenneally has been handling Borough business, including attending nearly all of the meetings.
Patch left a message at Kenneally's office on Tuesday morning, but had not heard back from him by Tuesday afternoon.
When asked on Tuesday about Kenneally's bills for December and January, Borough Administrator David Maffei said the Borough Chief Financial Officer would research the questions and respond to Patch's request.
Municipalities are not required by state law to select the lowest bidders for professionals, such as attorneys, engineers and auditors.
Nicholas Montenegro, who offered a quote of a maximum of $100,000 for 12 months, said he never got a request from Sabosik or any Borough official to consider lowering his quote for municipal attorney.
When asked if he was disappointed he was not given the same opportunity to negotiate as Dasti was, Montenegro replied, "I don't know that that's a concern. I'm disappointed I'm not able to represent the Borough. But those in charge have made their decision."
He was reappointed as Borough Planning Board Attorney.
Brian W. McAlindin, a former Republican Borough Councilman, of the law firm of Bathgate, Wegener and Wolf, Lakewood, said when Sabosik called him about re-negotiating his quote of a maximum of $125,000 for 12 months, he replied that he could not lower it.
However, he did offer to lower his quote for a position as conflict attorney, to which he was appointed.
McAlindin said his maximum for the year as conflict attorney is $49,500 and his hourly rate is $145, which, he noted, is a sharp reduction from his standard fee of $400 per hour.
Conflict attorneys are used only if the municipal attorney has a conflict of interest that precludes them from working on a specific matter.
The four Republican Borough Council members voted to appoint Jerry Dasti on Feb. 7, a move that was expected because Dasti had been Borough attorney under previous Republican majorities for about 16 years in the past.
Dasti was sworn in that night at the meeting at Borough Hall and his contract was signed last week, according to a copy supplied by Borough staff.
Fees paid to Dasti and other professionals will be one of many expenses to be considered as the council moves into budget deliberations this week. The council will have a regular meeting at Borough Hall at 7 tonight and a special budget workshop meeting on Thursday night (UPDATE: The Thurs. meeting was cancelled).
Sabosik said that even though Dasti's fee is higher than the quote offered this year by the former municipal attorney, professional appointments supported by the Republican council members will save the Borough 4.5 percent overall.
"These were not political appointments, these were appointments to save the town money," he said.
Also, Sabosik said the fee paid to Dasti may turn out to be only slightly higher, or possibly on par, with what the Starkey firm was paid in 2011, depending on Kenneally's bills for December and January.
Last year, when Democrats gained a narrow majority for one of the few times in Borough history, they did not renew the contract to the Dasti firm, instead opting to appoint the Starkey firm.
GOP council members, including Sabosik, Antoinette DePaola, Mitch Remig and John Wisniewski, have said they want an attorney with more experience representing towns and more Borough experience and that Kenneally was predominantly a tax appeal attorney, not a municipal attorney.
Councilman Chris Leitner said Kenneally has extensive experience as both a municipal attorney as well as a tax appeals attorney.
"Jerry Dasti is a fine attorney, but so is Scott Kenneally," Leitner said. "Scott has given us nothing but good advice. To criticize his credentials is disingenuous. Mr. Dasti's firm includes a Republican senator, assemblyman and a lawyer nominated for a judgeship and Mr. Dasti is on the Ocean County Republican Committee's finance committee. But this has nothing to do with politics?"
Dasti has more than 30 years as a municipal attorney and was Borough attorney for 16 years, according to copies of his cover letter, seeking the position, and resume, as submitted to the Borough.
Sabosik, in describing Dasti, said, "Without a doubt, his knowledge of the town and history of the town is a great positivity."
DePaola said in a Feb. 8 interview that at the Feb. 7 meeting, as well as the following day when she was interviewed, she did not know the final, re-negotiated fee for Dasti. She said on Feb. 8 that she knew what Dasti's fee would be for 12 months, but that it was being re-negotiated for 11 months and she wasn't sure exactly what that amount would be.
Remig said on Feb. 9 that he also was not sure of the exact amount of Dasti's fee on that day or when he voted on Feb. 7.
However, Remig said he knew that Sabosik and Dasti had re-negotiated for a lower fee compared to the original quote for 12 months and that, additionally, the fee was also being pro-rated down to 11 months.
"Anything less than the original quote is something I would have gone for," Remig said, emphasizing that he felt strongly that Dasti was the best choice for the town given his knowledge of the Borough and many years of municipal experience.
Remig was on council in 2010 when Dasti was still municipal attorney and said he was impressed with his work during that year.
Sabosik said that at the Feb. 7 meeting, he knew what Dasti's approximate fee would be, but he had to pro-rate it down by another eight days because he was not appointed until Feb. 7. When asked to provide details about how much was discounted for the "eight days," he did not.
(Feb. 1 to Feb. 7 is only seven days, two of which were weekend days and none of which were council meeting days.)
When Patch asked Sabosik immediately after the Feb. 7 meeting for Dasti's rate, he said he did not have it.
In the subsequent interview, he acknowledged he did not have the rate at the meeting with him because he didn't think he should bring his paperwork and discuss it until after the contract was signed, which wasn't expected to happen until this week at the earliest.
"In the future, if I'm allowed to discuss rates and fees before contracts are signed, I definitely will," he said.
Maffei said it would have been fine for Sabosik to discuss, at the Feb. 7 meeting, the fees of any of the professionals being appointed that night.
The "requests for proposals," or RFPs, the professionals had submitted were already public information before that meeting.
Sabosik said Dasti is charging $150 per hour, down from his usual rate of $175, and his associates will charge $135 per hour.
David Breeden, Barnegat Township Administrator, said on Thursday that Dasti charges Barnegat $160 per hour, after charging $150 in 2011 and $175 in 2010.
"2011 was our most difficult budget year of the three years, and Mr. Dasti agreed to make that sacrifice for us to help us out," Breeden said. "He's done an outstanding job for us for the past eight years."
When asked about a public concern about Dasti's past bills for a large volume of telephone calls between him and Borough officials, Sabosik said it will be important for all council members to put their legal inquiries through Maffei, so he can usually be the one to call Dasti and help keep charges for telephone calls minimal.
(Patch will run a separate story listing 2012 fees of other appointed professionals appointed by Borough Council.)