27 Feb 2013
“Fifteen years of neglect can wait 7 weeks.” - Fred Koed
There’s no mistaking what the Release RFP For Town Counsel And Other Legal Services As Discussed In January – Action Requested was all about on the Cohasset Selectmen’s Feb. 26th agenda. It was about replacing a very respected and sage town counsel on a whim.
Town Counsel Paul DeRensis has been with the town since its Greg Doyan (the town’s executive secretary) days. Over 20 years we think.
DeRensis has been a widely respected town counsel by townspeople, town officials and Massachusetts governors. He has been a selectman in Sherborn for many years so he offers the town two interesting perspectives – that of counsel and selectman.
Sad to say, illegal Acting Town Manager, Mike Milanoski, doesn’t like DeRensis. And what Milanoski doesn’t like he removes or reassigns. Milanoski doesn’t like DeRensis because he refused to bless Milanoski’s illegal contract that Milanoski wrote himself. Instead, DeRensis politely told townspeople that parts of Milanoski’s contract were “unenforceable.” It was a tortured piece of work. When Erin Dale of the Cohasset Mariner called to ask DeRensis what parts of Milanoski’s contract were unenforceable, he refused to comment.
But we digress.
Early this week Milanoski may have thought he had the selectmen’s blessings when he told DeRensis that he was putting out an emergency RFP for legal services and he was going to hire new town counsel services pronto. In effect, Milanoski was going to prematurely terminate DeRensis’ one-year appointment with the town that expires July 1.
BUT WAIT! The board of selectmen, not Milanoski, appoints DeRensis and his firm. Under the General Bylaws of the Town of Cohasset Article IV Section 2 the Town Counsel is a duly appointed Town Officer. Article IV Section (a) states “The Town Counsel shall be appointed annually by the Board of Selectmen” Article IV does not outline any process for revocation of that appointment. Under Mass General Law “persons appointed to these designated offices hold such office until removed by the selectmen.” This requires the BOS to give notice and an opportunity to be heard. Had Milanoski had his way and had not calmer minds not prevailed, the Cohasset Board of Selectmen could have found themselves in another lawsuit with, of all people, their own Town Counsel. Right before town elections. O, mercy days.
However, Selectmen were listening to greater minds this week. Because when the agenda item became live, Selectman Chairman Paul Carlson moved, immediately, to table the article.
When Selectmen asked how Milanoski had arrived at his tortured Legal Request for Proposal, Milanoski said he just looked at other communities’ requests and put together what he thought would be good for Cohasset. Yeah, it’s simple to write your own stuff, and save BIG money on counsel. That’s worked out very well.
Selectman Diane Kennedy said “Frankly, we need to discuss legal services going forward…I don’t think we should do it before town meeting. I move we table the RFP for town counsel.” Later in discussion she added, “Asking for an RFP doesn’t mean we’re switching counsel.”
In a related issue, Milanoski said he had acquired three proposals for Human Resources Legal Services. At the last meeting Milanoski only had one proposal from Kopelman and Page. He was asked by selectmen to produce a few more options. Two weeks ago Kopelman and Page put in a $20,000 proposal. This week they came down to $17,500 – outbidding Deutsch Williams, Town Counsel’s firm, by $1000.00. Another non-legal Human Resource firm did not interest Selectmen.
Koed questioned whether all the firms were given the opportunity to readjust their prices.
Kennedy said she felt strongly that the town needed a law firm to put the town on stable footing. “I would rule out the human resource firm.” She said Deutsch Williams’ knowledge of the town would be a strong factor in its favor.
At the selectmen’s last meeting and this meeting Milanoski wanted selectmen to start on the human resource update immediately and go to the advisory committee for an emergency transfer of funds.
Koed said it would be stretch to go the advisory committee for a reserve transfer fund for this. “I’m concerned about an end-run around town meeting.” He also said town counsel had never been asked to perform the HR function. And then he told Milanoski he was concerned about the breakdown in communications between the illegal acting town manager and town counsel. “You have to put this aside, you have to act professionally,” he told Milanoski.
Koed suggested selectmen put the question on the warrant and take it to town meeting that is only 8 weeks away. “Town meeting is the rubber stamp that starts July 1.” He suggested if the selectmen tried to spend money not voted by town meeting before town meeting someone could take money out. “I have difficulty in identifying the emergency here.”
Milanoski denied that he had ignored Deutsch Williams in his Human Resource RFP. “I am working with department heads who have labor issues. Many other issues are not being addressed,” in an attempted slur upon Deutsch Williams.
Koed asked why Milanoski had not brought these issues before the selectmen. “What are they?” Can you tell the board? Saying that these issues are out there doesn’t do anything for me. We pick Town Counsel. When you put out an RFP there has to be good reason.”
Milanoski again repeated that there were on-going issues and said he had e-mails to back it up. Koed responded that selectmen should hear town counsel’s side of the story. We agree completely -would have been nice to have heard former police chief Mark DeLuca’s side of the story, too.
Jenkins sided with Milanoski, saying he thought the town should get emergency funds from advisory to move forward with creating its human resource platform.
Milanoski said he didn’t want to put town counsel on trial, and he truly didn’t. He just wanted to fire him. When this writer asked selectmen if they had planned to terminate town counsel at their Tuesday meeting they all looked directly into my eyes and said no. So we guess Milanoski was just having a wet dream.
Throughout the discussion Milanoski sang the praises of Kopelman and Paige, over and over again.
Selectmen Martha Gjesteby agreed with Koed. “I think we can wait until after town meeting. You’re rushing too much,” she told Milanoski, stating once again that she would never vote to pay Kopelman and Paige any money for anything.
Citizen Agnes McCann agreed with Koed. She said the subject should go to town meeting. “You’re free between now and town meeting to get your ideas together.”
Carlson said he was reluctant to continue on (without a human resource program).
“We could take leadership on this.”
Koed said he would need an analysis to be done. “I need to know the issues and how we fix this.”
Milanoski said: “Our policies and procedures haven’t been updated for 15 years. We have1986 job descriptions.”
Kennedy said she agreed with Koed. “I don’t consider this an emergency after Fred’s articulate argument.”
Carlson said Page 3 of the Deutsch Williams proposal made him realize that the town was in legal jeopardy. This stuff is dynamic – I know that we are vulnerable. Each one of those things has to be done.”
Koed pointed out that annual town meeting is just seven weeks away. “Fifteen years of neglect can wait 7 weeks. We have 7 weeks to frame the arguments.”
Jenkins then changed his mind and said – I’ll go with Fred. I don’t want to piecemeal this out.”
“We have consensus,” Carlson said.