With the redevelopment attorney now appointed in West Windsor, Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh is hoping to get moving on a list of next steps for the process, including designating the West Windsor Parking Authority as the redeveloper for parking-related issues.
The mayor says that he and Councilwoman Linda Geevers, as well as officials from the parking authority, had a preliminary meeting with New Jersey Transit officials, where they discussed the designation as well as parking garages, cleanup of the township-owned compost site on Alexander Road, traffic circulation, and more parking spaces for West Windsor residents.
At that meeting, officials from all parties agreed that the township needs to work with NJT and the state Department of Transportation to finalize the traffic circulation element of the redevelopment plan. In addition, a concept design for the potential surface parking lot at the compost station needs to be created, Hsueh reported.
Officials from NJT will have their consultants look into the traffic circulation in order to help size the parking garages, Hsueh says. “In order to build parking garages, you need to have traffic circulation,” he said. “We need to take care of the backup parking site, which is the compost station, where we are doing the cleaning right now.” Along with that, Hsueh said officials agreed to continue discussions on how to create more parking spaces for West Windsor residents.
Chronologically, the first priority was to have a redevelopment attorney appointed. Traffic circulation plans must be finalized next, since the location of the parking garages depends upon the circulation. Then a concept design for the potential surface parking at the compost station must be developed.
In the meantime, though, the parking authority needs to be designated as a redeveloper so the parking issues can be sorted, Hsueh said.
“Once the parking authority is designated as redeveloper for parking-related issues, then they can recruit contractors for it,” he said. “We also need to have a time line and an examination of financial sources. You need to give the parking authority that kind of designation so they can start working on these issues, including how you’re going to pay for the design and contractors.”
Still, “the township will continue to stay as the redevelopment entity to oversee all of these operations,” the mayor added.
Hsueh says he is glad the Council appointed Ed McManimon as the redevelopment attorney during its July 13 meeting so that he can come up with the redevelopment agreements for that.
The council also approved an $8,000 contract with traffic consultant Gary Davies’s firm for continued work on traffic circulation. Following the July 13 meeting, the council also introduced a bond ordinance for $210,000 to provide supplemental appropriations for redevelopment on July 20. A public hearing on that ordinance is scheduled for Monday, August 3.
“I’ve been waiting for 18 months to come to this point,” Hsueh said, adding that he does not want any part of the redevelopment to be put on the backs of taxpayers. But, “I need the redevelopment attorney to develop the legal process, including how we are going to get the redevelopers to pay for it.”
McManimon’s appointment. While debate ensued before McManimon’s appointment, Hsueh said that the redevelopment attorney is the mayor’s appointee, and that 18 months ago, there were five proposals that came in. Hsueh said he interviewed each of the five candidates. “We had a committee, consisting of the Planning Board attorney, myself, the business administrator, and Will Anklowitz,” who was the council president at the time. “Based on the score, we selected Ed McManimon as the number one choice.”
McManimon has also worked as Plainsboro’s redevelopment attorney with regard to the new University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro that is currently being constructed off Route 1.
Councilman Charles Morgan was the sole vote against McManimon’s appointment, saying he felt it was unfair that the administration did not receive an updated proposal from each of the four other law firms who had submitted proposals for the redevelopment attorney position leading up to the July 13 meeting. He said he also felt that there was a conflict of interest, since McManimon also serves as the township’s bond counsel.
“If we’re going to appoint him as redevelopment attorney, we need to address his conflict of interest,” Morgan said during the meeting, suggesting that McManimon either withdraw as the township’s bond counsel or recuse himself from redevelopment bond issues.
He questioned why the two new members of council were not given an opportunity to review the other four firms so that they could make a fair decision.
Council President George Borek, however, said that all of the council members had an opportunity to weigh in, and that Diane Ciccone and Kamal Khanna had the opportunity to sit down with McManimon to interview him. “I don’t think anyone else on the dais has changed their minds,” Borek said. “We’re at a pivotal point. We need someone who is going to direct our ship.” He also said that a redevelopment attorney would be instrumental during a time in which the township is trying to get money and commitment from state agencies.
“As far as a conflict of interest, there is no conflict of interest,” Borek added.
Ciccone said she reviewed all of the material the council was given two years ago when the five firms first submitted their proposals, and that she reviewed the outcome of the interviews. Then she met with McManimon. “I feel I’ve done an objective review,” she said.
Khanna echoed the sentiment. “I think it’s about time that we move forward,” he said. “I don’t think I would like to hold up the process. I’m satisfied with what I have heard during my interview with Ed McManimon.”
Morgan, however, accused Khanna of being a “rubber stamp” for the mayor’s appointee, and said he did not understand how a thorough review could have been done by Khanna and Ciccone without updated proposals from all firms.
Said Ciccone in response: “I’ll take exception, for the record, to Mr. Morgan’s questioning about my due diligence.”
Councilwoman Linda Geevers said she felt the township will save money having McManimon as both the bond counsel and redevelopment attorney. After the meeting, Geevers said “it’s like having two attorneys for the price of one. Otherwise, you’d have the situation of overlap between the bond counsel and redevelopment attorney. If you had two attorneys, they each would have to be talking to each other at particular points.”
This has been a recommendation from the mayor to the council since January, 2007, she said, “and for political reasons, we never took a vote on the recommendation. Now that we have a new council seated, and we also have a redevelopment plan approved, it was time to appoint a redevelopment attorney.”
Geevers said McManimon’s firm has been considered one of the top firms in finance and redevelopment. “They have a tremendous amount of experience and expertise in financing redevelopment, and I think that’s essential experience to the success of the redevelopment project.”
She said more meeting between the DOT, NJT, township, and parking authority will be taking place to further discuss the circulation pattern. “I’m looking for these agencies to work with the township to develop a specific time line in decision making.”
A week later, at the July 20 meeting, when it came time for the introduction of the $210,000 bond ordinance for supplemental appropriations for redevelopment, Morgan again raised questions over what he says is a conflict of interest. Before the vote to introduce, Morgan asked whether McManimon would serve as bond counsel on issuing the bonds for redevelopment.
When it was determined that he would, Morgan asked township Chief Financial Officer Joanne Louth whether there were any changes to McManimon’s rate schedule, or how much he would be getting paid to handle the bonds. Louth said McManimon’s fees are based on the size of the bond issues, so she did not have an exact number.
Morgan said that because the amount McManimon is paid by the township would depend on the size of the deals, he could try to increase the deals associated with the redevelopment area. “The fact of the matter is we’ve got a fox in the hen house here,” Morgan said.
Morgan then asked Interim Business Administrator Robert Hary whether he could ask McManimon not to charge a fee for his work as bond counsel in association with the redevelopment bonds, “at the recognition of an apparent conflict of interest.”
Councilwoman Linda Geevers tried to put an end to the discussion. “We’re not going to start negotiating these things with him,” she said of McManimon’s fees. “We have contracts. It’s approved.”
But Morgan again questioned Hary, who said he would not ask McManimon to waive his fees. “It wouldn’t be appropriate,” responded Hary. “He has no involvement in the size of the bond issues.”
Council President George Borek echoed the sentiment, saying that the township is the entity that gets to decide the size of the bond issues. “Why would we want to not pay someone for the work they’re doing for us?” he asked.
Responded Morgan: “I don’t know why you wouldn’t simply ask.” The council voted 4-1 to introduce the bond ordinance, with Morgan voting against the measure.
At the conclusion of the July 20 meeting, Morgan motioned for a closed session meeting to discuss the “personnel matter” he mentioned earlier, but there was no second from any of the other council members. Attorney Karen Cayci, who was filling in for Township Attorney Michael Herbert during the meeting, said that the council could not have gone into a closed session on the matter because it would “need to give prior written notice” to the person involved, which the council did not do.