Many things can be said regarding the Lakewood Fire District. Transparency, curbing conflicts of interest, and watching the taxpayers dollars are definitely not among those things.

The Lakewood Board of Fire Commissioners have just reappointed Ian Goldman as their attorney for 2024. Mr. Goldman will receive $195 per hour, in an amount not to exceed $85,000.

As previously reported here on FAA News, prior to soliciting proposals for the attorney position, BOFC Assistant Clerk & Treasurer Larry Loigman called on his colleagues to increase transparency in the process, ensure there are no conflicts of interest and cut down on the spending.

The rest of the commissioners, who were anxious to rehire Mr. Goldman at $195 an hour, rebuffed Mr. Loigman's recommendations.

Even more egregious, the commissioners crafted loopholes to ensure they can keep their prized attorney at all costs!

New Jersey State law requires that contracts above certain amounts need to be bid out to the lowest bidder, through the publishing of a Request for Qualifications (RFQ).

The New Jersey Local Public Contracts Law (NJSA 40A:11-4.4) specifically provides that "the competitive contracting process shall... include all requirements deemed appropriate and necessary to allow for full and free competition between vendors; information necessary for potential vendors to submit a proposal."

In other words, the bidding process needs to be "fair and open to all."

Mr. Loigman offered that the Board include their RFQ that all potential attorneys submit the following:

1.  A statement that all requested forms and documents are mandatory, and a submission without any of them will be disqualified.

2. A requirement that the proposer should include a minimum of 3 legal briefs or opinion letters demonstrating familiarity with the laws governing fire districts.

3.  A requirement that the proposer should include a statement: (a) identifying all clients whose interests may reasonably be expected to create a conflict with the business of the fire district; (b) an explanation as to how those conflicts, or any other conflicts which may arise, will be addressed.

4. The maximum hourly fee to be paid will be $160.

In August 2021, the Board of Fire Commissioners hired Mr. Goldman at an hourly rate of $155. In December 2022, the Board reappointed Mr. Goldman at an hourly rate of $195. 

Mindful of the taxpayers wallets, Mr. Loigman suggested that the Board cap the legal services contract at $160 per hour.

The rest of the Board rebuffed these suggestions flat out. 

Board Chairman Yaakov Steinberg even retorted, "good luck finding an attorney at that rate!" This is quite a puzzling assertion to claim, as Lakewood Special Counsel Jean Cipriani gets $150 an hour.

Additionally, the rest of the Board also crafted specific wording into the RFQ to specifically ensure that they can retain their prized attorney!

Typically, contracts get awarded to the lowest responsive and qualified bidder. Accordingly, any attorney who submits a proposal cheaper than Mr. Goldman's proposal would win the contract.

The Board worked around this "issue" thanks to wording their RFQ to expressly stipulate that they will "award a contract to the firm that best meets the needs and interests of the Board and the Fire District," and that they "reserve the right to... accept any proposal deemed in the best interest of the Board and the Fire District."

N.J.S.A. 40A:11-4.5 provides this legal loophole, permitting governing bodies to write their "methodology" for their proposal and to "evaluate all proposals only in accordance with the methodology described in the request for proposals."

Importantly, ignoring Mr. Loigman's recommendation to cut down to a maximum of $160 per hour, the Board's RFQ provided that the hourly rate can be up to $195 per hour.

Accordingly, Mr. Goldman submitted a proposal requesting $195 an hour. (Curiously, his proposal submission certifies that there was "no collusion involved" in his submission...)

Earlier this week, the Board of Fire Commissioners voted to approve the reappointment at that rate. Commissioner Loigman voted against the reappointment. Commissioner Pfeffer, whose brother is Mr. Goldman's partner, abstained from voting on the matter.

Mr. Goldman also serves as Municipal Prosecutor for the Township of Lakewood (annual salary of $105,000), Borough attorney for the Borough of Lakehurst (annual salary of $40,202.28), and special counsel for various municipalities across Ocean County in he which assists them with various administrative matters.

The Board also approved the appointment of the firm of Sendzik & Sendzik, P.C. as professional special legal counsel. This firm will be paid $165.00 per hour "for projects as directed by the Board and agreed upon by and between the parties," according to the resolution of award.

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