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EAST HANOVER -The agenda was as clear as could be. Item one under resolutions at Monday’s council reorganization meeting was reappointing Matthew O’Donnell as town attorney.
But less than a half-hour before the meeting was to start, Mayor Joseph Pannullo got a visit from O’Donnell himself. He no longer wanted the job.
The mayor said O’Donnell thought bowing out would be in the best interest of township residents.
O’Donnell has been essentially identified by the state Attorney General’s Office as the “cooperating witness” in an investigation that resulted last month in corruption charges against five political figures – three from Morris County and two from Hudson. In short, the state said that the “cooperating witness” offered the defendants cash in exchange for future benefits.
None of this involved any East Hanover official.
Pannullo said he was “saddened” that O’Donnell no longer wanted to represent the township. It’s been a lucrative relationship. Records indicate that O’Donnell’s Morristown law firm received almost $1 million in fees from the township in 2018 alone. The township will now seek applicants for the attorney’s position, the mayor said.
The mayor said O’Donnell “elevated our town” and that if people had any doubts, they could come to his office to talk about it.
When the meeting ended, Pannullo answered a few questions, not in his office, but from the dais.
“I want everybody to remember one thing,” he said. “You hear a lot of rumors going around and the truth of the matter is that … Matt hasn’t been charged with anything.” He added that whatever happens with O’Donnell, he should not be convicted by “public opinion.”
Tammy Murphy, the state’s First Lady, attended the meeting and praised Pannullo, who began his fourth term. The mayor and all council members are Democrats.
Murphy said Pannullo was a “leader” and a “mentor” for all township residents.
The First Lady, however, left the meeting before the O’Donnell issue arose.