Appointment of BCWA legal counsel questioned

BCWA board of directors chairman Allan Klepper voted in favor of keeping the agency's current legal firm. BCWA board of directors chairman Allan Klepper voted in favor of keeping the agency's current legal firm.

BCWA board of directors chairman Allan Klepper voted in favor of keeping the agency's current legal firm.

BCWA board of directors chairman Allan Klepper voted in favor of keeping the agency’s current legal firm.

The Bristol County Water Authority Board of Directors recently decided against a change in legal counsel though some residents aren’t happy with how the move was carried out.

On Thursday, Dec. 20, the board voted 5-2 in favor of maintaining Cameron and Mittleman as BCWA legal counsel. The vote, which marked the end of a process that included seven responses to a request for proposals, followed a public hearing on a potential rate increase that could be approved as soon as Wednesday, Jan. 9 and would take effect March 1.

Barrington resident Gary Morse, however, argued the vote was a violation of state open meeting law.

The agenda for Dec. 20 included an item dubbed “RFP – Legal Services” under the “Business” section. At a Jan. 3 meeting of the BCWA, Mr. Morse argued the topic was listed with this same description for months prior to the meeting without any vote to appoint legal counsel.

Barrington resident Jeff Black questioned the legality of a board meeting on Dec. 18 that was not posted with the Rhode Island Secretary of State. The board reportedly interviewed five potential legal firms that night.

Board of directors chairman Allan Klepper said the five firms to receive interviews were narrowed down from seven applicants based on a rating system with input from each director. Mr. Klepper also said directors discussed the merits of each potential firm following the interviews.

BCWA Executive Director Pamela Marchand said the agency has asked outside legal counsel to look at the Dec. 20 vote. Ms. Marchand also said the BCWA is not paying this outside legal firm, which she declined to identify.

“We want to take another look at it,” Ms. Marchand said.

Mr. Klepper said the group was advised by another community’s legal counsel that it did not have to post the Dec. 18 meeting because it was an internal working meeting. Mr. Klepper declined to identify the community.

Directors Ray Palmieri, of Warren, and Kevin Fitta, of Barrington, voted against keeping Cameron and Mittleman. Directors John Jannitto, of Warren and Frank Sylvia, of Bristol, were not present for the vote.

Mr. Fitta said his stance wasn’t a reflection on the work of Cameron and Mittleman nor attorney Sandra Mack but a belief that change is a good change for an organization. Mr. Fitta also said Ms. Mack has become a “lightening rod” for criticism of the BCWA.

“I think a change in our legal counsel will offer a fresh start much in the same way a change in the new executive director did,” Mr. Fitta said.

Additionally, Mr. Fitta said Cameron and Mittleman’s rates were between 25 and 45 percent higher than other qualified firms though Mr. Klepper noted the firm had a lower cap than other applicants.

Mr. Palmieri said he was concerned that one of the firm’s associates would be handling the BCWA’s legal matters in Massachusetts and not Ms. Mack.

Those who supported the firm cited Ms. Mack’s knowledge of the BCWA. Director Paul Bishop, of Bristol, said Ms. Mack has done an “excellent job” during his tenure and a new lawyer could bill the board for researching old issues.

Director William Gosselin, of Warren, said change shouldn’t be made for the sake of change. Mr. Klepper said the board has received “excellent” representation from Ms. Mack and her knowledge of the BCWA and state officials is “exceedingly important.”

Ms. Marchand concurred and director Joseph DeMelo, of Bristol, supported her recommendation.

Both Mr. Klepper and Ms. Marchand said the board would re-visit the issue if it is advised to do so.

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6 Comments

  1. Marina Peterson said:

    I find it interesting that Ms. Marchand and Mr. Klepper are now saying that they are “looking into” the legality of the December 18th and 20th meetings. In a letter to the Black’s, Ms. Marchand adamantly states “All of the Board meetings have been noticed in accordance with the Open Meetings Law.”.

    Note that they re-appointed the very counsel that advises them now of the open meeting laws, and not very effectively.

    The last time a complaint was made to the AG’s office re open meeting laws it resulted in a $65000 windfall for ms. Mack in legal fees to contest what would have resulted in a fine of $1000.00!!

  2. GaryM said:

    Here is the irony of this matter.

    BCWA’s much needed rate increase is claimed to be based largely on BCWA’s history of prior mismanagement (clogged pipes, etc.). Much of that mismanagement has footprints to bad, or non existent, legal advice on BCWA’s obligations under the Bristol County Water Supply Act (e.g. the Anawan Dam controversy).

    Now the Board is trying to repackage Ms Mack as having provided BCWA with excellent legal service. This doesn’t mix.

    Was this the reason that BCWA took the time to investigate if they could hold the Dec 18th meeting by trying to claim it was a “work session”? (Note – a work session is when the Board might attend a workshop together, like an AG meeting, in which they are all sitting in one room, but not discussing things with each other.)

    Wouldn’t it have been easier to just be transparent and have an open meeting rather than trying to rig things?

    BCWA has again become self destructive at the same time they want to claim “we are a new BCWA”.

  3. John Tats said:

    I feel bad for Mrs. Marchand, I believe that her intentions are to put every effort into trying to fix the system. The problem is that the past administration has burnt everything behind them like Grant through Richmond!….She is faced with trying to make something out of nothing. While we all understand that the system needs to be upgraded, the problem is that there is not much trust left in the Board because of “Poor” past decisions. And as far as the attorney goes, if Mrs. Marchand wishes to gain the public trust, she really should distance herself from the attorney (Mack) and any advise given from her. That is 90% of the problem at present.
    It is rather obvious that the rate payers will have to be paying more in the very near future, no matter what. I would feel better if some of the line replacement projects where put forward first and perhaps some of the less necessary stuff held off until they make some money back. Either way, we have got to give them something to get started on some of these line replacements, it needs to be done!
    Then the budget could be taken more seriously. Perhaps they should send the attorney(Mack) packing, that would be a step in the rite direction with the trust issue.

    • GaryM said:

      John,

      Ms Marchand is a highly compensated executive paid by rate payers to do a great job. Her contract contains essentially a “no layoff” clause. In overall value, it is probably better than she had with PWSB given all these provisions plus the retirement benefits.

      Taken together that she is also getting board support for all the tools and people to easily navigate the future goals and objectives, I’d say she is sitting very well.

      Rate payers should expect a lot!

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