Select Board Confident In Brooks & Derensis Performance As Town Counsel
by Connie Sartini
Following lengthy discussions over several of their meetings regarding Town Counsel and whether or not to make any changes, the Select Board voted to continue with current Town Counsel Brooks & Derensis through December 31, 2019 as general legal counsel subject to review on November 15, 2019.
They also voted to continue with Brooks & Derensis to serve as special counsel, if necessary, beyond December 31 to handle a litigation case scheduled for court in the fall until its conclusion.
Town Manager Mark Haddad said moving the date to December 31 would give the chance to work out the kinks. He added, “I commit to work on the communications issues.”
Select Board Chairman Alison Manugian said that any financial issues were known when the town changed Town Counsel. “We haven’t had good communication and I am comfortable extending the contract to June 2020. A one-year trial is short to get acclimated and work out the kinks. December 31 makes sense as it is the end of the calendar year.”
In addition they voted to keep KP labor counsel through December 31, 2019, subject to review on November 15, 2019. Lastly, they voted to look at a Request for Proposal (RFP) that would combine the general legal counsel functions and labor function into one firm.
Brooks & Derensis was selected as Town Counsel for Groton last August over two other firms, KP Law and Mead Talerman.
One of the issues raised was the process used for town department heads and employees to contact Town Counsel for advice. Town Manager Mark Haddad said the Chairman of the Department or the Town Manager gives permission and the employee or department head doesn’t have to come back to him for each discussion until the issue is resolved.
Select Board member Becky Pine asked who handles the Appellate Tax Board, indicating that Principal Assessor Jonathan Greeno apparently did not know.
Town Counsel Attorney Paul Derensis advised that there are two tax appellate attorneys on his firm’s staff, one for detailed motions and the second for trial evaluation. Derensis said, “We asked him (Jonathan Greeno) to send us the information on the case but he never did.”
Select Board member John Giger noted that there seems to be a communication problem. “On the town side there is a protocol but it needs to be clear what is wanted and how it is wanted. We need to be clearer about what we need.” Haddad replied, “We try to start with the request in writing, then emails, then talk on the phone. We need to fine tune this.”
Town Counsel Derensis said that his firm has a protocol form for requesting legal advice. Among other things it asks to identify any deadline, and how quickly the advice is needed. It also asks whether this request is inside or outside the retainer. Derensis also asked the Select Board if he could have a copy of the briefing package that they receive the Friday before the Board meeting so “we can see what was voted and not be in the dark about where the town is headed.” He also would like to have a Request for Services – a request for legal services – “so we can track them.”
Giger agreed, saying, “I’d like to do this, especially the inside/outside of the retainer to help us in decisions.”
Colleague Josh Degen said he wanted “Brooks & Derensis to go through the town’s bylaws as part of their retainer and offer them the opportunity to fulfill that and get one year under their belt.”