Western New Jersey

Phillipsburg council questions paying mayor's legal fees

Three long-time members leaving council

PHILLIPSBURG, N.J. - Phillipsburg Town Council expressed doubts at their Tuesday meeting about whether the city is liable for a $9,000 attorney fee stemming from an altercation between Mayor Stephen Ellis and a town resident.

“Personally I don’t believe the taxpayers should pay it,” said council member Randy Piazza.

Piazza said the bill should be tabled until town officials have a chance to clarify the town’s ordinance on paying for legal fees.

Council Vice President Bernie Fey agreed, saying the town owed taxpayers due diligence, especially on such a touchy subject.

Council President Todd Tersigni said Chapter 27 of town code provided guidelines for providing for legal defense of town employees.

To Tersigni, town code indicated that the altercation didn’t occur in Ellis’ capacity as mayor because it occurred outside of council meeting time.

Town resident Blaine Fehley filed a lawsuit against Ellis in the spring, alleging the mayor had assaulted him prior to a council meeting.

The incident occurred when Ellis confronted Fehley for posting a doctored photo of Ellis, taken by a third party while Ellis was shopping with his son, to Fehley’s Facebook page.

Video of the incident showed Ellis pointing at Fehley, but Ellis has denied any assault, and in October Fehley dropped his charges.

Town officials will determine alongside the solicitor whether the town is responsible for paying Ellis’s legal fees stemming from the argument.

Tuesday’s meeting was the last, at least in an official capacity, for Fey, Piazza and Tersigni. The three recounted their key moments during their eight-year terms.

Fey remembered the town’s deficit reduction and the start of the Ingersoll-Rand project while Tersigni noted improvements to the town’s surveillance cameras and the splash pad at Walter’s Park.

“I really cared,” Tersigni said. “Nobody can ever deny that.”

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