BCWA awaiting legal advice on potential third vote
Bristol County Water Authority Executive Director Pamela Marchand is seeking the advice of outside legal counsel regarding the number of votes needed to take action on specific issues, including the appointment of legal counsel.
A press release issued Friday states Ms. Marchand is looking for advice on the interpretation of language in BCWA enabling legislation and BCWA by-laws.
The release was an update to a statement issued Thursday that said the board of directors would need to take a third vote on the appointment of legal counsel. The board voted 4-3 Wednesday night to retain the firm of Cameron and Mittleman though the by-laws and enabling legislation reportedly conflict as to whether five votes are needed.
Ms. Marchand said the agency is consulting Hinckley, Allen and Synder on the issue. Ms. Marchand said the firm wrote both the enabling legislation and the by-laws.
She said the agency hopes to have an answer by the end of this week to determine if a third vote is needed.
BCWA by-laws state that the board may take action approved by a majority of its members when a quorum is present. The enabling legislation, however, states an action must be authorized by not only a quorum, but five affirmative votes.
Wednesday was the second time the board voted on legal counsel.
“Further actions, if any, by the Board will depend on the findings of outside counsel,” reads Friday’s release.
“The Board will take the appropriate actions to insure compliance with its current documentation.”
On Wednesday, Cameron and Mittleman was among three firms to be re-interviewed by the board of directors. The board initially interviewed five firms on Dec. 18 though the meeting was not posted. The board voted 5-2 two days later, on Dec. 20, in favor of Cameron and Mittleman.
Two of the firms, including Cameron and Mittleman, agreed to return for interviews in executive session Wednesday while attorney Michael McElroy opted for public questioning. Another one of the five finalists reportedly notified the board it could not attend Wednesday’s re-interviews while the final candidate reportedly did not respond to the offer.
Director John Jannitto, of Warren, motioned to re-appoint Cameron and Mittleman.
“I’m convinced we have good, competent legal service,” he said on Wednesday.
Paul Bishop, of Bristol, seconded the motion. He said the firm has done an “excellent job” in his year-and-a-half on the board. He also stated Bristol’s two other directors – Joseph DeMelo and Frank Sylvia – told him they supported keeping Cameron and Mittleman. Mr. DeMelo and Mr. Sylvia were not in attendance Wednesday.
BCWA Executive Director Pamela Marchand said she supported Cameron and Mittleman given the firm’s knowledge of BCWA history and issues currently facing the agency. Ms. Marchand said it would be “very difficult” for a new firm to come in.
Board of directors chairman Allan Klepper, of Barrington, agreed. He said Ms. Mack expressed the “most thorough grasp” of issues facing the agency.
Barrington director Kevin Fitta, however, supported a change in counsel. He said any organization should consider periodic changes in professional services. Mr. Fitta also said the BCWA has some “public perception” issues that could be alleviated with a change in legal counsel and other firms had “considerably lower rates.”
Director Robert Allio, of Barrington, agreed while director Ray Palmieri, of Warren, said he couldn’t support the firm because of cost and the potential that associates with less experience would be handling BCWA legal issues in Massachusetts.
A few members of the public also called for a change citing rates and past issues, such as open meetings concerns.
In the end, the firm was approved 4-3 with Mr. Fitta, Mr. Palmieri and Mr. Allio voting nay.
Attorney Sandra Mack, of Cameron and Mittleman, said her firm operated under a $60,000 cap this year, which was met in November. She said the firm’s effective rate by the end of this fiscal year in February will likely be about $235 an hour, lower than a rate of more than $300 per hour referenced during the meeting.
Ms. Mack also said BCWA matters in Massachusetts will be handled by a senior partner at the firm and not an associate.