By a slim majority, the Jefferson Township Council voted to replace Township Attorney Lawrence Cohen, who had been serving the town for 37 years, with the new law firm of Laddey, Clark & Ryan LLP, starting July 1.
Mayor Eric Wilsusen, who bested former Mayor Russell Felter in the Republican primaries last year, and was sworn in as mayor in January, formally proposed this change at the town council meeting on Wednesday, June 26, after months of looking into new attorneys and consulting with his staff.
“I ran my mayoral campaign on a change platform that the voters in our community overwhelmingly responded in favor of,” Wilsusen said. “I promised to look at all aspects of our government to improve our delivery of services to our residents. I feel the recommendations I put forth serve that purpose.”
The recommendation split the current township attorney role into three different positions, including a labor attorney, tax appeal attorney, and township attorney in charge of OPRA requests and other legal issues. Laddey, Clark & Ryan LLP will be the township attorney in charge of OPRA requests; Cleary, Glacobbe, Alfieri, Jacobs, LLC will be the labor attorney, and Cohen will still be working with the town as the tax appeal attorney.
Councilmen Jay Dunham and Robert Birmingham spoke out against the changes before the vote.
“He has represented us well for many years as the complete service attorney,” Dunham said. “I don’t understand why we would want to get rid of an attorney who was a proven horse, a winner. I would never fire an attorney who was winning for me.”
Birmingham agreed with Dunham, arguing that having more attorneys would make the costs of legal representation increase and cause inefficiency by limiting each attorneys’ expertise to their specific role in the town rather than having a broad knowledge of the town’s litigation in every area.
Councilwoman Melissa Senatore, Vice President Kim Finnegan, and President Debi Merz voted in favor of the recommendation.
Senatore, who ran on the same ticket as Wilsusen, said she trusted his administration’s recommendation and reminded council that they are only voting on the appointments for six months and that they can change this at the end of the year if it proves to be ineffective.
Although Finnegan and Merz agreed that Cohen has provided excellent legal service to the town, they both supported the recommendation because of how closely the township attorney has to work with the mayor.
“It’s a business decision. It really is,” Merz said. “I work through my clerk to get the answers that I need. I think the mayor has to be comfortable to be able to pick up the phone and talk to who he wants to talk to, and I feel like he’s gone out and he’s done his homework.”
After the vote, Cohen thanked the town for allowing him to represent the community.
“I know that Jefferson has a rich history, and I was very happy to be a part of that history,” Cohen said. “I’ve made so many friends here. I considered myself to be a part of the Jefferson family for all these years.”
Wilsusen helped swear in Tyler Schroers as a firefighter for Fire Company #2. He also introduced the council to the mayor for the day Matthew Wettstein. They spent the day touring the municipalities offices, staff members and facilities. Wettstein was one of a few children to be a part of Wilsusen’s program to introduce the youth to municipal government.