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.