By JOHN T. WARD
Red Bank Councilman Ed Zipprich did not “interfere” in the award of a trash collection contract two years ago, according to an unreleased report obtained by redbankgreen.
Special attorney Scott Salmon’s report also says “there is evidence to suggest” that former business administrator Ziad Shehady was the the anonymous source of internal emails about Zipprich that were leaked to redbankgreen.
In its appointment of Salmon as ad hoc special counsel April 27 at a fee of $7,500, the council sought legal input on whether it should more fully investigate “potential interference” in the award of the trash contract in the summer of 2020, “and/or the subsequent release of confidential information related thereto.”
As reported by redbankgreen in August of that year, Shehady expressed alarm via internal emails that Zipprich appeared about to “sabotage” the bidding for the contract, which was still in the request-for-proposals. (RFP) stage, in order to favor a potential bidder, DeLisa Demolition.
Shehady’s emails, addressed to borough Attorney Greg Cannon and elected officials – but not Zipprich or his ally, Councilman Michael Ballard, Salmon noted – were shared anonymously via encrypted service with redbankgreen, and contained some correspondence that was then less than 24 hours old.
Salmon’s conclusions: Zipprich violated no laws, and further digging into the leak would likely be “incomplete.”
In his report, labeled as “CONFIDENTIAL ATTORNEY-CLIENT WORK PRODUCT” on all five pages, Salmon concluded that “there is no law, regulation or rule” that would have barred Zipprich from speaking with a potential bidder about the terms of a request for proposals.
Salmon also said Zipprich “is not alleged to have provided the potential bidder with any confidential information, nor provided it with any benefit.”
“There is no legal precedent to suggest his conduct was, or could have been, unlawful or unethical,” Salmon continued. “As such, it is my professional opinion that no further investigation is required, and any further expenditure of funds to pursue this matter would be an inefficient use of resources.”
DeLisa did not respond to the RFP; in fact, the borough received no responses that round. The Tinton Falls firm, which has handled the borough’s trash since pickups were privatized in 2015, later won a new contract when the matter was put up for bid a second time – at $600,000 in savings to the borough, Salmon wrote.
“Not sure how you received this,” Zipprich told redbankgreen by email in response to a request for comment on the report Thursday. He said he would comment after consulting with counsel. [UPDATE: see Zipprich’s response here.]
As for the leak itself, Salmon wrote that two years have passed, and “more importantly, the sender of the email is no longer employed by the borough.”
A footnote says that “there is evidence to suggest the emails were leaked by Shehady, who, as stated, is no longer employed by the Borough. However, such a conclusion is beyond the scope of this report, and would require additional investigation that is likely impossible at this point in time for the reasons stated.”
Asked about the “evidence” of Shehady’s role in the leak, Salmon told redbankgreen he was not authorized to comment.
Shehady did not respond to request for a response.
Following a closed-door executive session Wednesday night, the council reconvened for less than a minute without discussion of the report “because we are waiting to have further advisement from our borough attorney,” said Council President Kate Triggiano, leading the meeting in the absence of Mayor Pasquale Menna.
Salmon wrote that his report was based on documents provided by Cannon and an unspecified number of interviews with Zipprich. No other interviewees are identified in the report.
The report addresses two issues that bitterly split the all-Democratic council in recent years.
Then in a two-man minority with Ballard, Zipprich demanded an investigation into the email leak, which he said both tarnished his reputation and constituted a violation of the council’s attorney-client privilege.
Then in the majority, Triggiano, Kathy Horgan, Erik Yngstrom and Hazim Yassin pushed back, contending that the leaked documents were “OPRA-able,” or subject to release under the state Open Public Records Act.
What needed probing, they said, was Zipprich’s alleged interference.
Eventually, the two sides agreed that a legal opinion on both matters should be obtained.
Barry Cooke, an attorney recommended by Menna, was first contracted to provide legal guidance to the council, but failed without explanation to deliver a report, and did not submit a bill for payment, officials have said.
With Yassin voted out of office and Yngstrom having resigned, Horgan and Triggiano are now in the minority, opposite Zipprich, Ballard and newcomers Jacqueline Sturdivant and Angela Mirandi.
Horgan and Triggiano did not respond to a request for comment.
Here’s the report:Red Bank – Salmon report 051722