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|Town to pay $4K more a month for legal services|
|Written by Susanna Sheehan|
|Wednesday, 11 September 2013 10:01|
Duxbury officials this week approved a $4,000 increase in the amount the town pays to its attorney each month.
Selectmen chairman David Madigan and Selectman Ted Flynn voted to support an increase from $8,000 to $12,000 in the flat monthly rate that the town pays for legal services to Anderson and Kreiger LLP of Cambridge. The town hired the legal firm last December after it fired longtime town counsel Robert Troy and performed a search for a new lawyer.
Attorney Arthur Kreiger told selectmen Monday that he had incurred much higher costs for performing legal services for the town for which he was not paid due to the flat fee. For example, Kreiger said the value of his time for January totaled $33,000. This amount was the high point as compared to the low point of $8,000 in April. Other months spent in preparation for March’s annual town meeting also cost him a lot more money: In February his bills totaled $18,000 and $26,000 in March. May was $16,000, June was $25,000, July was $13,000 and August was $12,000. The last two months were lower because some of the issues covered in the flat fee were removed and were billed at an hourly rate.
The flat fee covers most legal services except for litigation, transactional and real estate matters and any other “extraordinary matters” that Kreiger and the town manager agree will not be covered, according to the lawyer’s agreement with the town made in January.
Kreiger said that three issues have attained the status of “extraordinary matters” and were reclassified as being outside the flat monthly fee. They include the revised animal control bylaw approved at town meeting because of the review it has needed by the attorney general; the Blairhaven property conservation restriction because of “a lot of cooks in the kitchen” or all the parties that are part of that “time-consuming” agreement, and the Camp Wing affordable housing land agreement, which needs revision due to past legal mistakes.
Kreiger felt the town could save money on legal fees by taking a hard look at how it prepares for town meeting and how it conducts town meeting.
Town meeting is very expensive because it is a fairly cumbersome process with a lot of people meeting about articles that culminates in the meeting all-day Saturday and two nights,” said Kreiger. “Town meeting could be streamlined. The run-up to it could be streamlined.”
Kreiger said he and his associate, Kevin Batt, spent many hours drafting articles for town meeting and felt that that time could have been avoided with better prepara- tion from the town. Kreiger reminded selectmen that he made a number of recommen- dations after town meeting to help move the process forward but he has not heard yet if his ideas will be implemented.
“Coming out of that, we had a number of suggestions to streamline town meeting, like grouping motions, the way votes were taken, etc.,” Kreiger said. “I got a little pushback on this.”
He also cited reasons other than town meeting that his legal costs ran higher than expected.
“The rest of the explanation is that certain things have been done in a more complicated way than they need to be,” he said.
Kreiger gave as an example the selectmen’s request last year to dissolve the North Hill Advisory Committee. Kreiger said he told them to hold that idea until after the legal case with Johnson Golf, Inc. was finished and then once that was over, he said the selectmen discovered that they had questions as to whether their board could dissolve the committee or if town meeting had to do it since it was part of the town bylaws.
“A simple thing like that shouldn’t be requiring legal time to work through,” said Kreiger.
A lack of staffing or leadership on certain issues such as affordable housing and the solar project at the capped landfill has caused the lawyers to spend more time on these issues than Kreiger feels is necessary.
“The whole affordable housing issue is something of a quagmire,” he said. “There is a fairly overlapping and inconsistent, although well intentioned set of initiatives, meanwhile affordable housing hasn’t progressed as quickly as one would have hoped.”
For example, Kreiger said that there were mistakes made in the way the land at Camp Wing was set aside for both af- fordable housing and conservation and that has taken time for his lawyers to understand and to fix. He said many issues are working themselves out and that litigation “is less of a concern and it hasn’t required our attention” on a scale that he thought it might now that the ex-police chief Mark Deluca and Johnson golf lawsuits are no longer in the courts.
Kreiger said it was “unlikely” that Duxbury’s legal bills would ever be near to the original flat fee set at $8,000, saying he expected them to stay closer to $12,000.
According to Finance Director John Madden, Duxbury’s legal services budget is set at $232,000. He said raising the flat fee to $12,000 per month “was not unreasonable,” but he was concerned about any “extraneous charges.” Also, Madden said it would help the town if Kreiger’s contract could follow the town’s fiscal year, which runs from June to July instead of following the calendar year. Kreiger agreed to that idea only after finishing out the current year.
Selectmen said they plan to review the legal services budget again at the end of the fiscal year next June.