2007-01-25 / Front Page

Council reviewing solicitor applications

By Dotti Farrington

Town Councilors have received 11 responses to the town's call for proposals to be appointed town solicitor, they reported at a special meeting Friday afternoon.

Interviews are being scheduled with the applicants in February.

The existence of an opening for the position came as a surprise to most town government watchers. Town officials shrugged in response to questions about lack of notice about the opening, and limited notice about the special meeting.

The search for a solicitor resulted from the oral request of Associate Solicitor A. Lauriston Parks in November. He was looking for more work because his appointment as main solicitor for North Kingstown was not renewed by the incoming council. Parks had held the position for about 10 years.

Parks has been working as an associate solicitor in Jamestown since J. William W. Harsch was appointed solicitor four years ago, with his assignment specifically shared with Parks as a collaborative partner. Each maintains, and continues to maintain, independent legal firms.

Parks said he was interested in taking over all legal duties for the town with his firm's associates serving as solo solicitor. Harsch agreed to a change in arrangements, even though the dual appointment was not due for review until the next council election in November.

Councilors decided to seek proposals from any interested lawyer or law firm. They are working toward holding the town's annual legal budget to $90,000. Town legal spending is in line with budgeting this fiscal year. Last year, the legal account was $20,000 over budget.

Parks and Harsch are two of the 11 applicants. Parks (and associate) offered to do all the town's work for $86,400 or $95 per hour. Harsch proposed to continue responsibility for all town legal work, except criminal prosecutions, for an annual fee of $65,000 or $100 per hour.t Harsch also submitted a second proposal that he, with other lawyers, share the sole solicitor appointment for all work.

Two lawyers - Carolyn Mannis and Merlyn O'Keefe - offered to do only criminal work for the town for $30,000 and $33,000 respectively. Mannis has been the town prosecutor as part of the current Harsch collaborative.

The councilors comments at Friday's meeting did not seem to indicate a preference for any of the applicants as solicitors, but they were very clear that being able to keep Mannis as prosecutor would be given priority. They spoke about her reputation as aggressive. Councilwoman Barbara Szepatowski said the town needs Mannis' "total commitment to the town," and noted that Police Chief Thomas Tighe and other local police officials have cited Mannis' "commitment to win." Szepatowski said some who represented the town in previous years did not act as if they had to win for the town.

The councilors agreed by consensus that all applicants need to be advised that the council was prepared to "reserve prosecutions" for Mannis. Six of the 11 applicants said that as sole solicitor, they would be prepared to do the prosecutions, as well as the other work listed as general municipal, planning and zoning, and labor.

Those six firms or collaboratives and their proposals for annual fee/or hourly, are:

Kelly, Kelleher, Reilly, Simpson and Donnelly, which took over the North Kingstown legal account, $120.000/$115. + Blish & Cavanagh.

$110,000/$125

+ Harsch, Silva, Thomas et al,

$90,000/$100.

+ Parks and Zangari. $86,400/$95.

+ Ruggerio. Orton, Brochu.

Sternick, $80,400/$135.

+ McKenney, Quigley. Izzo,

Clarkin, (no annual fee), all work

for $150 an hour.

Two lawyers bid on part of the town work: Karen Ellsworth said she would do all planning and zoning for $40,000 a year or $100 an hour, and James O'Neil bid on general municipal work only, with no annual fee, all work for $125 an hour.

State law provides that all proposals for professional contracts, such as for lawyers, are subject to negotiations and the town is not required to accept lowest qualified bidder, town officials emphasized.

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