2007-02-08 / Front Page

Council interviews solicitor candidates

By Dotti Farrington

The Town Council last week interviewed seven individual lawyers or groups of lawyers who want to take over the consortium of attorneys serving as the Jamestown town solicitors for the last four years.

Three applying for only part of the work were not interviewed. Town Solicitor J. William W. Harsch, a principal applicant, was unable to keep his interview appointment because of a sudden seasonal illness.

The interviews were conducted last week on Thursday and Saturday. The councilors wanted to conduct the interviews in executive session, but several months ago in a legal advisory on open meetings and public access Harsch ruled that contractors, including professionals in several categories, were not town employees and therefore not entitled to closed meetings as provided for town personnel.

The councilors wanted to discuss the interviews and make their decision about appointments in executive session at their special meeting of the Board of Water and Sewer Commissioners Monday, but they were advised by Town Administrator Bruce Keiser that notice of the session and appointment as agenda items were not provided in time for that meeting. Even if posted as an agenda item, Harsch's 2006 ruling and explanation of the state Open Meeting Act seemed to suggest that it could not be done legally in executive session, Keiser said.

The councilors talked about developing a point system for scoring the applicants, and said they might re-interview one or more because in other situations they had found second interviews helpful.

Mannis

Among applicants for some town legal work, Attorney Carolyn Mannis applied to continue criminal prosecutions, but no other municipal assignments.

During her interview, the councilors asked Mannis if she would be interested, available, and qualified to do all the town's legal work. She said she could handle the job.

On Jan. 19, when all candidates were identified, some councilors singled out Mannis' work as a prosecutor for praise, mainly based on reports by Police Chief Thomas Tighe. The councilors asked other candidates if they would accept splitting the solicitor duties with Mannis or other candidates for parts of the solicitor's duties and all interviewees said they would.

Councilor comments have not seemed to indicate a preference for any of the applicants, but they initially indicated that keeping Mannis as prosecutor would be given priority. At the interviews, councilors continued to indicate favor for Mannis, but also seemed open to other possibilities.

Interviews

During the interviews, Council President David Long asked all the lawyers why they wanted the solicitor job here. Each gave similar answers about being qualified and available to do the work. Harsch and his associates, which include Lauriston Parks, a former Jamestown town solictor who is currently an interviewee, were appointed to serve until the council election this coming November. Harsch agreed to the separation that Parks had requested last November. (See related story on page 20.) Harsch and Parks are the only applicants with residences or offices in Jamestown.

Council Vice President Julio DiGiando said some questions he had were appropriate only in closed session, so he did not make many inquiries.

Councilor Barbara Szepatowski led questioning all applicants about their experience with the "police bill of rights" and referred to Tighe's interest in that category. She emphasized she was not aware of any local actions pending. All responses from the applicants indicated awareness of but not much involvement with that issue.

Szepatowski also said that some residents working with youths have begun exploring such efforts as juvenile review boards. She asked the applicants about their knowledge and opinions of such boards, and received a range of answers about the pros and cons of such local committees.

The councilors seemed to focus on affordable housing needs as a major concern, as well as the decades-old town highway barn issue, but there was little in-depth talk and suggested potential approaches from the applicants. Most off-island lawyers were aware of some Jamestown issues, but one was firm about not knowing about any, and another had not researched the town's legal budget and workload.

Councilman William Kelly asked each candidate about conflicts of interest, uncovering none. He asked if the lawyers had any issues on which they might be pre-disposed and was told by all that they gave legal advice only, leaving the policy making to the council.

Councilman Michael Schnack directed his questions to a variety of concerns, including choice of substitutes when the primary lawyer is not available.

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 the lowest proposal. At the interviews, the applicants with high bids agreed they would try to negotiate.

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