Money in Politics: Plymouth’s Council Names New Solicitor at Meeting with no Published Agenda

Plymouth Township’s Council held its reorganization meeting on January 2nd and failed to publish an agenda prior to the meeting. A source had told us that during that meeting, the new Democratic Party majority on Council would name the law firm of Rudolph Clarke as its solicitor. It did just this.

Not publishing an agenda on its website or social media isn’t against the law, but it is out of the ordinary for Plymouth Township. While we do not regularly attend meetings in Plymouth Township, we do regularly review agendas and minutes looking for items we think will be of interest to our readers. We never had trouble finding what we wanted to find before.

As we have reported, there was and continues to be a public uproar over the Colonial School Board’s move, and eventual action, to name the same law firm, Rudolph Clarke, has its solicitor.

One of the arguments made by the public against the Colonial School Board’s move was that Michael Clarke of Rudolph Clarke had donated $2,500 to the campaign of four newly elected members. It had the appearance that a major donor was being rewarded.

The Plymouth Victory Committee, the Democratic Party’s campaign umbrella for its candidates for Plymouth Council, received a $3,000 campaign contribution from Michael Clarke for the 2017 campaign. Since 2011, Clarke has donated $6,250 all together to the Plymouth Victory Committee.

The uproar involving the move by the Colonial School Board to name Clarke the solicitor began in late November. So Colonial School District and Plymouth Township were, in the same time period, moving towards the same decision. Was Plymouth Township’s Council trying to avoid the uproar that occurred with the school district?

We emailed the entire Council on Monday and asked about the agenda not being published and the naming of Rudolph Clarke as solicitor. We received the below response from Marty Higgins, the newly installed President of Council.

Thank you for your email. I will do my best to answer your questions, and hopefully provide you with the information that you are looking for.

I want to start off by letting you know that our current Council, including the two newly elected members, have made it a priority to increase openness in all that we do. Communication with our constituents is perhaps our greatest responsibility , and we feel as though it is one area that our township needs to be committed to improving as quickly as possible. We are currently undertaking a major initiative to improve communications. Making information more easily accessible on our website, sharing our agenda’s over various channels including social media, providing greater clarity to the general public regarding land development projects, and making our meetings ( in particular our workshop meetings) more welcoming to our constituents are all improvements we have discussed and are eager to get working on.

This is, of course, a lengthy lis (sic) of communications goals and it won’t happen overnight. We recognize that just because things have been done a certain way in the past, it does not mean we have to continue to do the same. It will take a little bit of time to move everything in the direction we want to see, but we are eager to get moving and we think our Township residents will be pleased with the results.

Regarding the agenda for the reorganization meeting ….this is just one example of the type of miscommunications we want to avoid. The purpose of the annual reorganization meeting is explained on the Township website, and the date/time of the meeting was publicly announced. And, public meeting agendas are always available prior to these meetings. However, you are correct, there does not appear to be an agenda for this meeting published on the website. We will address this and make sure it does not happen again. Looking forward, publishing more information, not less is our goal.

Regarding the appointment of a new solicitor … you can see with a new Council in place, we did decide to go in a different direction with our solicitor position. We felt this was necessary in order to help achieve the goals of our Council and work in the direction in which we plan to lead. The law firm of Rudolph Clarke has served as solicitor to Plymouth Township in the past and comes to us with an outstanding track record of work in other municipalities. Those of us on Council and our Township staff have known their firm for quite some time, and we are confident that they will be second to none in terms of service they will provide. When they inquired with Council and our Township Manager about the position, we did our due diligence to make sure they would be a good fit again. We chose not to undertake an RFP in large part because we knew this was the firm that we wanted.Our constituents elected us and entrusted us to make the best decisions for the township, and we did not take that responsibility lightly in this selection. In just a few weeks since their appointment, we are already extremely impressed by the quality of service Rudolph Clarke is providing for the township.

We did not enter the year with a new Council and just make wholesale changes for the sake of change itself. We retained many consultants who have been doing great work for the Township, and appointed new ones such as solicitor where we feel change was needed. We appointed and re-appointed members to our Citizen Boards that reflect the diversity of our community and come from both sides of the aisle.

We are proud of being a responsible and responsive government in Plymouth Township, and look forward to being even better for all of our residents moving forward.

Thanks again for reaching out to us. I hope that I was able to answer your questions.

What is interesting is that we noticed the agenda wasn’t published prior to the meeting. Council member Chris Manero actively posts and comments on the Facebook group TalkinPlymouth. We asked Manero several times where the agenda was. We received no response. See below:

Let us know what you think in the comments.