NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—TK Shamy, a lawyer who has worked for the city for more than 25 years, and has run the city’s Democratic Party organization for the past eight years, has assumed the top attorney position in city government.
A press release came shortly after the City Council approved the promotion, putting Shamy in charge of the city’s Law Department at the request of Mayor James Cahill, a 24-year incumbent and practicing attorney.
But the statement does not indicate the salary that Shamy will be paid in the position, or the nature of an unprecedented arrangement to keep his predecessor on the payroll.
Since 1986, the city’s Law Department has been run by William Hamilton, a lifelong resident, former state legislator, and one-time Governor candidate.
In a revelation that city officials kept quiet until the very last minute, the 82-year-old Hamilton will be stepping down from the leadership position, but remaining on the city payroll as a “special counsel,” according to the release.
According to public records, Shamy was already earning $108,054, as of January 2014, as an Assistant City Attorney.
Shamy did not respond to a phone and email messages from New Brunswick Today.
The author of the press release, Cahill spokesperson Jennifer Bradshaw, has not responded to inquiries about the salaries and benefits both men will earn.
“T.K. has earned a well-deserved reputation as an honest, intelligent, insightful and independent-minded attorney,” said Cahill in the release.
“We are fortunate to have had the benefit of his good counsel for the past 25 years and know that T.K’s talents will continue the outstanding service to our community that we received from Bill Hamilton during his accomplished history as City Attorney.”
Shamy now joins Cahill’s cabinet, which consists of nine men who run the city’s ten departments.
Well-known in the area’s Lebanese community , Shamy will be of just two non-white member of the administration’s all-male leadership team.
Hamilton was one of two remaining department heads appointed by Cahill’s predecesssor John Lynch Jr. The other is Steven Zarecki, who heads both the Director of Public Works and Engineering Departments.
Shamy hails from the Dewey Heights neighborhood of New Brunswick, one of the political machine’s few strongholds and the community Lynch once called home. Hamilton lives in a nearby townhouse.
Lynch is not just a former Mayor but also an elected State Senator for many years, after replacing Hamilton as the district’s representative in the NJ Senate.
Once the state’s most powerful politician, Lynch was later sent to federal prison for nearly three years on corruption charges brought by the US Attorney’s Office, led by future NJ Governor Chris Christie.
Once rumored to be next in line for the Mayor job, Shamy runs a private law firm, Shamy & Shamy, and also leads the city’s Democratic Organization, having helped lead campaigns to re-elect Cahill three times.
Most recently, the Mayor ran unopposed, making the party chairman job much smoother than it has been in previous years. For example, in 2009, Shamy lost 25 of 56 seats on the committee that makes up his organization to a team of candidates led in part by the author of this article.
In 2012, New Brunswick Today reported that former State Comptroller Matthew Boxer had accused Shamy and five other attorneys on the city payroll of inappropriately accumulating credit towards a pension, an issue still plaguing at least one attorney in the administration.
Hamilton jumped to Shamy’s defense at a City Council meeting nearly a year ago: “Mr. Shamy’s continued participation in the pension system… was totally vetted by the Comptroller General against the standards and it’s been upheld.”
Hamilton’s arrangement with the city is also highly unusual, and was the topic of a Department of Treasury investigation.
After Hamilton retired for a brief 30-day span in 1997, he began collecting a $60,431 annual pension on to return to work for a much lower salary, $15,000 per year instead of $86,600.
But Hamilton’s income is also bolstered by a professional services agreement that allows him to bill the city for his time, at the rate of $180 per hour for work on litigation and other issues.
“Bill voluntarily agreed to reduce his salary… because he’s a really nice guy who really cares about the city of New Brunswick,” said Mayor Cahill at the time.
Reached today, Hamilton confirmed his own $15,000 annual salary will remain unchanged.
He will also still be able to bill the city $180 per hour for additional work, under a professional services agreement approved by the City Council last January.
All told, nearly a dozen attorneys work for the city government, including Shamy, Hamilton, Assistant City Attorney Charly Gayden, 3 prosecutors, 2 public defenders, as well as attorneys for the Zoning Board of Adjustment and Board of Ethics, and one man who represents both the Planning Board and Rent Control Board.
Shamy will supervise all of them in his new position.
“Some of them are in the pension system at the moment. I believe there is some scrutiny as to whether they will stay there,” said Business Administrator Thomas Loughlin after being asked by New Brunswick Today about the re-appointment of the prosecutors and public defenders at a recent Council meeting.
But the salaries and pensions are not enough, according to Hamilton, who like most of the city’s attorneys runs his own private practice on the side.
In one single vote last year, the City Council approved up to $184,939 in spending on lawyers, including a professional services agreement with Hamilton worth up to $50,000, and another agreement with Gayden worth up to $30,000.
Hamilton said the $50,000 probably would not cover all of his bills in 2014. Gayden’s professional services agreement comes on top of her $30,000 salary.
In response to an inquiry for the amount that was actually billed against the contracts, and several others, in 2014, Bradshaw referred this reporter to the Open Public Records Act.
Those figures would not include the costs associated with numerous claims against the city that are handled by the Middlesex County Municipal Joint Insurance Fund, including cases involving false imprisonment, police brutality, and a bizarre dispute over the name of a proposed sports bar.
That fund hires its own attorneys and defends the 22 different governments in three counties, including the New Brunswick and its parking authority, distributing the legal and settlement costs equally.
Meanwhile, Gayden came under fire for her performance as the “community liason,” a role created to assist residents who wanted to file complaints against police officers.
Several residents have criticized her dual-role as a city lawyer and the so-called “liason” to the “community.” Gayden lives outside the city and her brother is a city police officer.
Aaron Shabazz, a Somerset resident, has alleged two instances of racial profiling against New Brunswick officers and said that Gayden deliberately delayed the process and ignored the rules of the city’s new “internal affairs review” system.
In both hearings that have taken place with Gayden as liason, she failed to make an audio recording of the proceeding and present it to the city’s Police Director, according to Shabazz.
Shabazz also alleges Gayden investigated him rather than the claims he was making against the officers, including one who ended up leaving the force after killing an unarmed man.
Hamilton has stuck up for Gayden, but has also come under criticism himself at recent Council meetings for not having answers about court cases involving the city.
New Brunswick Today had asked about rumors Shamy would replace Hamilton, after overhearing some talk of a new city attorney at a county court hearing on December 22.
“They mayor tells me that Bill isn’t retiring,” responded Jennifer Bradshaw, a spokesperson for Mayor Cahill, avoiding the question.
“Who knows Charlie? I’ve been waiting for 25 years,” joked Shamy that morning. “Nothing’s guaranteed until it happens.”
Hamilton also joked about the transition, saying his colleague might have to wait “another 40 years” to take the helm of the Law Department.
UPDATE: City Hall has indicated that TK Shamy’s salary will be $150,000 per year, making him the third-highest paid city worker.
“Mr. Hamilton’s contract is not changing,” said spokesperson Jennifer Bradshaw. “His new role will entail assisting TK with preparation of trial and legal matters pertaining to the City. In the event that TK cannot represent the City on a particular matter, Mr. Hamilton would be qualified to stand in for him in this role.”
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.