Newark Renews Contract With Law Firm Where Former Deputy Mayor Now Works

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City Hall Newark
City Hall, Newark. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

The City of Newark will continue working with a private law firm from Central Jersey where a former city official is now of counsel.

Last year, Rainone Coughlin Minchello, of Woodbridge Township, was selected by the Newark Department of Economic and Housing Development (DEHD) to provide up to $100,000 worth of legal services pertaining to redevelopment and land use matters from June 1, 2017, to December 31, 2017. The DEHD’s appointment of the law firm was approved by the Newark Municipal Council in July 2017 while Deputy Mayor Baye Adofo-Wilson was still serving as the department’s director.

A resolution regarding the matter at the time stated that City Hall, which has an in-house law department, “is involved in ongoing legal matters and therefore has a need to acquire legal services.” It added that the law firm was the only practice to respond by the May 5, 2017 deadline to an April 20, 2017 Request for Qualifications (RFQ). The RFQ was “caused to be published” by Adofo-Wilson.

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Then, in September 2017, Adofo-Wilson, a Montclair resident, quietly left his position at the DEHD. A source who spoke under the condition of anonymity told Jersey Digs at the time that the Deputy Mayor was leaving City Hall for the private sector. Adofo-Wilson was replaced in the interim by Carmelo Garcia, a former state assemblyman from Hoboken who previously worked for the Newark Community Economic Development Corporation (NCEDC) and the Hoboken Housing Authority.

A few months later, Adofo-Wilson became an attorney of counsel at Rainone Coughlin Minchello. His biography on the firm’s website describes the former Deputy Mayor’s role there as “focusing on urban redevelopment development [sic] and projects” and adds that he is also a developer of urban mixed-income and mixed-use developments along with renewable energy projects.

Now, with Adofo-Wilson serving of counsel on redevelopment matters to Rainone Coughlin Minchello, a firm that was initially hired by City Hall in response to an RFQ that he caused to be issued, the City of Newark will continue to work with this private practice. During its meeting on July 11, 2018, the Newark Municipal Council approved a resolution that calls for the firm to provide for up to $50,000 worth of legal services regarding redevelopment and land use matters.

In addition, in a separate resolution, the council contracted Rainone Coughlin Minchello to provide up to $25,000 legal services regarding matters of conflict. The RFQs for both types of legal services were issued on October 27, 2017, according to the resolutions, and the practice was reportedly selected because “it was found, based upon price and other factors, to be in the best interest of the City.” Although both resolutions were approved in July, the period for both contracts was set to begin on January 1, 2018, and conclude at the end of this year.

During his time at City Hall, Adofo-Wilson’s DEHD was involved in a wide range of developments and the Deputy Mayor cut the ribbon on numerous projects throughout New Jersey’s largest city, particularly in and around the central business district. However, he faced criticism from the NCEDC’s former CEO and from the NJ Communities United group, whose members even held a protest in the department’s City Hall office and chanted “bye bye Baye.”

In addition, although The Star-Ledger wrote in 2014 that Adofo-Wilson said that he would recuse himself from matters involving the Lincoln Park Coast Cultural District (LPCCD), a neighborhood organization that he previously was in charge of, a resolution that was adopted in August 2017 stated that the DEHD was providing a $250,000 grant to the LPCCD for “The Facade” and made no mention of Adofo-Wilson recusing himself. In fact, the resolution mentioned in part that “the Deputy Mayor/Director of the Department of Economic and Housing Development is hereby authorized to effectuate certain business terms and conditions related to the grant agreement.”

Rainone Coughlin Minchello was formed at the beginning of 2017. As Politico has reported, the practice has already been hired by plenty of other municipalities throughout the state. New Jersey Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin is one of the firm’s partners.

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