On a night when the West Deptford township committee ended its evening with a 45-minute retreat into closed session to discuss a pair of lawsuits—including the case of a demolished property on Cromwell Court—there was lots of legal discussion in the air.
Solicitor Anthony Ogozalek was called upon for his opinion on a range of topics, including the stalled development of a revised township sign ordinance and a progress update on West Deptford's deal with the Active Marketing consultancy during a public comment portion that lasted more than an hour.
But Ogozalek was also questioned directly about 28 invoices to the township for some $3,000 in consultations regarding its 2013 budget process.
The bulk of these were described conversations with Committeeman Sam Cianfarini, including, apparently, Ogozalek's assistance in crafting a political press release, a task for which the solicitor said he instructed his assistant to not bill the township.
But it caught the attention of resident Rick Nichols, who obtained a stack of invoices from Ogozalek under the Open Public Records Act, and asked the committee for its take.
“What was the point of your conversation?” Nichols asked Cianfarini.
Ogozalek jumped in: “I think he’s asking me because he may trust my opinion over other people,” the solicitor said, adding that he frequently takes calls from clients on his personal cell phone.
Ogozalek added that whatever the nature of his conversations with any member of the committee, they would ultimately be construed as political “because there’s always disagreement with people on the committee.”
“Mr. Ogozalek does not speak for me and I can’t make any comments on those until I see them,” Cianfarini told Nichols.
“You’re in here a lot,” Nichols said, indicating the stack of invoices he'd reviewed.
“It’s a great question,” said Committeewoman Denice DiCarlo. “Why are you two conversing so much?”
With the committee enjoying the benefit of ready access to Township Administrator Eric Campo, who is also an attorney, “we shouldn’t be opinion-shopping because your bills aren’t fixed," DiCarlo told Ogozalek.
“When I have a question and I reach out, I have reached out to you after the administrator has told me his opinion and he asks me for a second opinion,” she said.
“We have expertise in-house that we should be checking out first.”
“It comes down to the committee approving the bills,” Ogozalek said. “Every township is different and every board is different as to how they treat their solicitor.”
On Friday, Cianfarini told Patch that he wasn't privy to the details of the paperwork that Nichols presented, but that his contact with Ogozalek is appropriate and costs the township less than did communication with his predecessor.
"I trust Mr. Ogozalek more than I trust anyone else in the township, and I’m going to use him as my solicitor," Cianfarini said. "I’m going to use his services.
"We’ve got a situation here where we’re trying to change the ills of the past from an entrenched power base, and I’m trusting my team to do that," he said.