LAMBERTVILLE, NJ - When Lambertville Mayor Julia Fahl ran for office in 2018, one central campaign issue was hiring a full-time city business administrator.
Two months into her tenure, the city posted an employment opportunity for the position and, by May 2019, former South Orange Mayor Alex Torpey had been hired for the newly created position. Torpey, who also served as business administrator for Leonia, was one of the youngest mayors in the state of New Jersey while in South Orange, and moved from North Jersey to Trenton for the new job in Lambertville.
Just over a year later, on July 29, 2020, the city announced it was not renewing the contract for Torpey and released a statement mentioning that the “presence of a business administrator was a critical success factor,” but indicated that “it is apparent that the fit was not right for our City.”
As a result, in September, Torpey sued the city, citing “improper removal.” The lawsuit claimed he was “terminated from his position,” although the July 2020 statement on the city’s webpage read that Torpey’s contract was allowed to expire. However, on the city council agenda for Nov. 30, was a resolution, “ratifying and affirming the termination of former Business Administrator Alex Torpey.”
Other counts in the lawsuit cited “failure to pay accrued vacation and severance” and “violation of the conscientious employee protection act.” In the latter charge, the lawsuit noted former councilperson, and former Republican candidate for mayor, Dave Burd, as not having the proper Office of Emergency Management certification, as well as indicating Fahl violated the Open Public Meetings Act and Open Public Records Act.
The fourth count dealt with violations of the New Jersey law against discrimination hostile work environment, citing Fahl’s language around Torpey, and noted that, on “multiple occasions, plaintiff advised Mayor Fahl that this language was inappropriate.”
Even before the creation of the business administrator position, certain residents had been vocal about the high salary for the job and the need for the position. A grassroots group, Lambertville United, which sprouted in early 2020 in opposition to Fahl’s redevelopment plans, wrote about Torpey in their August Newsletter, “The hiring of a business administrator raised many eyebrows due to his (Torpey’s) lack of required experience, high salary and history of short periods of public service in the roles of South Orange mayor and Leonia BA,” and went on to note “LU supports a critical look at whether the BA position is really needed.”
Previously, the city had lauded the work of Torpey, emphasizing his work had saved the municipality money. During her January 31 State of the City address, Fahl said Torpey had “taken on the task of a transparent budget with incredible ferocity.”
On Nov. 28, Fahl posted a note to the city’s Facebook page regarding the ongoing litigation, writing, “In my opinion, this lawsuit is no more than a case of a disgruntled former employee who seized an opportunity to line his pockets with taxpayer money.”
The city of Lambertville hired the law firm Krovatin Nau LLC, of Newark, and Torpey has employed Inglesino, Webster, Wyciskala & Taylor LLC, of Parsippany.