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‘We are a new Council’

Township Council appoints new municipal attorney amid disagreement


There’s already friction among the five members on the Lawrence Township Council. It came to a head as Municipal Attorney David Roskos was replaced and a short-term contract was approved for the township’s special labor attorney at the Township Council’s Jan. 1 meeting.

After questions from Township Councilman Christopher Bobbitt, the Township Council unanimously approved resolutions appointing a new municipal attorney, a special counsel (attorney) for tax appeals and litigation, and a special counsel for labor relations at its first meeting of 2024.

The contracts are short-term.

Attorney Arthur Sypek was appointed to serve as the municipal attorney for January. Sypek replaces Roskos, whose contract as municipal attorney expired Dec. 31 and was not renewed. However, Roskos is not going anywhere, at least in the short-term. His contract was renewed for January to handle tax appeals and litigation.

Attorney Armando Riccio, who has served as labor attorney for several years, was appointed for January and February to handle labor matters.

When Bobbitt asked for the reasons for dropping Roskos as municipal attorney and offering Riccio a two-month contract, Mayor Patricia Hendricks Farmer said that “we are a new Council and we are reviewing those services and we will address it at the next meeting.”

Farmer was referring to herself, Township Councilwoman Olympia I’Liou Perry and Township Councilman John Ryan, who were sworn into office earlier in the Jan. 1 meeting. Bobbitt and Township Councilman James Kownacki’s terms on the Township Council began in 2022.

Bobbitt persisted and asked for insight into the process of replacing the attorneys. He said he was not challenging Sypek’s credentials. The question is process, not credentials, he said.

“In the interests of openness and transparency for the residents of Lawrence Township, is there a way I can understand the financial impact of switching attorneys from one to another, basically over the last few weeks, so I can make an informed decision,” he said.

Farmer repeated the explanation that “the new Council” is reviewing the attorneys. The financial aspect is another consideration, she said.

Perry reinforced Farmer’s answer and said that Roskos’ contract terminated Dec. 31. “The new Township Council wants to place a person we felt would be a very great asset to the township. That’s why we requested Mr. Sypek,” she said.

Municipal Manager Kevin Nerwinski said that while Sypek is qualified, there are questions about openness and transparency. He said then-Mayor John Ryan hand-delivered a letter to Roskos under Ryan’s letterhead that stated he was effectively terminated as of Dec. 31.

The mayor’s post is ceremonial. The mayor does not have the power to make and carry out decisions, under the Council/Manager form of government in Lawrence Township.

Nerwinski said that “if we are talking process and we are talking law,” he was confused as to who empowered Ryan to terminate Roskos’ services effective in a calendar year (2023) when the majority of the sitting Township Council supported Roskos.

The Township Council was made up of Bobbitt, Kownacki, Ryan, Michael Powers and Catie MacDuff in December 2023. Powers and MacDuff did not seek re-election when their terms expired Dec. 31.

Nerwinski said that “moving forward, these decisions are being made recklessly,” but Farmer cut him off and gaveled him to be quiet.

“We are not going to have that language here,” Farmer said.

Farmer said decisions are being made in the best interests of the township and that more information would be made available. Roskos’ contract was not terminated; it had expired, she said.

Kownacki said Sypek was qualified, but “the three of you (Ryan, Farmer and Perry) made the decision. You did not invite Bobbitt or me to the meeting. There was no transparency. Bobbitt and I are still elected officials and we had no input on this.”

Farmer reiterated that a decision had not been made on a municipal attorney. Roskos’ contract ended and “we choose someone to assist us in the meantime,” she said.

“You will have an opportunity to govern with us,” Farmer told Kownacki. “This is the first time that the five members of the Township Council have gathered together as a body.

“We will absolutely be an inclusive Council of all five members. You have my word on that.”

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