City officials kept in the dark on hiring of attorney; Comptroller says no money will be paid until reasons divulged

UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) - The City of Utica has hired an attorney at the rate of $150 an hour for a possible lawsuit.

However, city officials have not divulged why they are hiring an attorney, even to those on the board who voted on the matter.

What's more, the City Comptroller has said he will not issue any check to pay for the services until he is made aware of what is going on.

According to Utica Common Council President William Morehouse, the decision to hire an attorney was made Wednesday by the Estimate and Apportionment Board - a decision he voted against because city officials would not divulge why they were looking to hire J.K. Hage.

The E&A Board is made up of Morehouse, Deputy City Engineer Mike Mahoney, Mayor David Roefaro, Utica Common Councilor Edward Bucciero, and City Comptroller Michael Cerminaro, who was not present for the vote.

Board member votes are as follows: Roefaro - yes, Mahoney - yes, Bucceriero - yes, Cerminaro - Absent, Morehouse - No.

Morehouse said the committee was told that the City of Utica needed to hire Attorney JK Hage at $150 an hour in regards to what was described to him as "a big lawsuit." However, it is not clear whether the city is the target of the mentioned lawsuit or if the city is exploring filing one against another entity. City officials will not confirm to the media if there is a lawsuit actually filed or whether the hiring of Hage came from a filed notice of claim.

Morehouse said he could not vote for the decision when officials would not even tell him what he was voting for.

"I can't do it," Morehouse said. "I mean, if you can't trust me, you know, if they would have told me what the situation was, I would have then said (to reporter Pat Bailey) 'Pat, it is a legal matter. I can't talk about it.' Instead, they made a big issue about it - supposedly this is huge. So, I am in the dark and we will see how huge it is."

Mike Mahoney, who voted 'yes' on the decision, said Thursday that he was not sure what it was he voted 'yes' on.

When asked why he would vote for something he didn't know anything about, Mahoney said: "I trust Linda."

Both Mahoney and Morehouse went on to say that the only two people who do know what's going on with the matter is Mayor Roefaro and Linda Sullivan-Fatata.

The resolution that was passed Wednesday night states the action voted upon as "hiring JK Hage as the attorney to represent the City of Utica regarding a confidential financial and legal investigation."

City of Utica Comptroller Michael Cerminaro said that despite the recent public differences between he and Mayor Roefaro, he does not feel as though he is a target of the secret investigation. Cerminaro was not present at Wednesday's E&A board vote and said that the Executive Session in which the matter was voted upon was never on the E&A Agenda for Wednesday.

Cerminaro did say that he will not issue any check to pay for the investigation until his office is made aware of what the money will be going to.

"To issue a blanket check, so to speak, is not what I say at this stage of the game is a prudent thing to do with so many unanswered questions," Cerminaro said.

The comptroller went onto say he expects to be hearing from both the Corporation Counsel, and JK Hage's office once money is not released.

"The mayor and his staff hired us to leave no stone unturned to benefit the taxpayers," JK Hage said. "However, the citizens of Utica would be ill-served to have the investigation be made public right now."

NEWSChannel 2 has filed a Freedom of Information Law Request with the City of Utica for Notices of Claim that have been filed against the City of Utica and any departments within from January 1, 2010 to April 15, 2010 to determine if the city is preparing for a defense.

It still remains unknown whether the city will be filing suit or is preparing to have suit filed against them.

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