HANSON — Selectmen on Monday, Nov. 19 completed the last of five first-round interviews with law firms seeking a new contract for labor and/or general counsel services to the town.
The process, begun Nov. 13, is expected to continue with a discussion and selection of two final candidates at the Tuesday, Nov. 27 meeting for a second round of interviews on Tuesday, Dec. 11. Town Administrator Michael McCue hopes a decision can be made by Dec. 18. He began the process in an effort to ensure Hanson was getting the best legal advice it could afford as part of his goals for the year.
“This is a major decision and I strongly advise the Board of Selectmen to choose two … and have them back again for a second round,” McCue said. “You’re not married to the 18th. If his board can’t come to a decision — if they’re not comfortable, if there’s not a majority — we can revisit the way we’re doing it.”
The firms interviewing have been: Clifford & Kenny LLP of Pembroke and Murphy, Hesse, Toomey & Lehane MHTL of Quincy on Nov. 13 and current town counsel Mead, Talerman & Costa of Millis; Brooks & DeRensis of Boston and current labor counsel Norris, Murray & Peloquin LLC of Norwood on Monday.
Clifford & Kenny and Norris, Murray & Peloquin are applying for labor counsel services only and the other three are applying to offer both general and labor counsel services.
McCue said any of the five would be a qualified selection.
“What I’ve requested the Board of Selectmen to do is, by Nov. 26, send me the two top firms that you’d like to see again,” for general counsel and labor counsel, McCue said. He and Selectmen Chairman Kenny Mitchell had discussed the process and agreed on that step, but Selectman Jim Hickey asked why a discussion in open session was not being considered as the next step.
“As a group we don’t get to discuss at all what we think?” he said.
“I have a problem with sending Mike a vote email,” Dyer agreed. “I think we should have a group discussion about all five of them between all five of us here. We all come from different expertise, you guys have been on the board longer than I have, and I think your insight would be really valuable to my vote — and then there’s open government. … I think we need to be open and transparent with this,”
Selectmen Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett and Wes Blauss also saw merit in public discussion before narrowing the field of candidates.
“I want to hear [the others’ thoughts] because maybe I missed something,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said, noting that some sort of rubric by which to judge the firms.
“I’m all for efficiency, I’m all for transparency [but] Matt represents a new generation who, nationwide, are demanding transparency in government — and not necessarily getting it,” Blauss said. He volunteered to start off discussion at the next meeting, explaining his top two picks.
McCue, who had provided on-page summaries on the firms, including their size, how long they have been in business, client base and proposed cost, said all five are qualified.
“All five of them are highly qualified firms, the only differences … have to do with how many people work for that firm, the years of business and the amount of municipalities they represent,” he said. “I have experience with all of these firms.”
He said he had no objection to any process the board wished to pursue, but was concerned that a “free-wheeling conversation” about five different firms could result in the board being at loggerheads.
Mitchell said his experience on the police chief search committee, which had narrowed a field of 49 applicants to the two finalists brought before Selectmen for interviews.
“I don’t know that it makes sense taking all five and all of us have the same opinion about one, two or three, when we could narrow it down and then have that deep discussion about those one or two,” Mitchell said.
Applying as labor counsel, Clifford & Kenny is a small firm with two partners and three associates founded in 2013 by partners with a dozen years of legal experience a piece. They currently represent 20 municipalities including Rockland, East Bridgewater, Marshfield and Fall River.
“We’re very respectful of the relationship with the unions,” said partner Jamie Kenny on Nov. 13. “We don’t go scorched-earth. … These employees are normally long-term employees, they are valued employees and we want to work together to try and reach a resolution that everybody can live with.”
Applying as both general and labor counsel, Murphy, Hesse, Toomey & Lehane has a team of 31 attorneys and was founded in 1986 with a 150-municipality or government department client base, but assured selectmen they don’t practice the “hot potato” approach to client representation, according to associate Michael Maccaro.
“We want you to know that, when your issue comes up, that’s the most important issue to us that day,” he said.
The firm has dealt with all labor unions active in the state and a diverse group of municipalities.
“We just make the policy decisions and help you get to where you want to go,” said associate Cynthia Amara.
Current town counsel firm Mead, Talerman & Costa is also applying to become labor counsel this go-round. Founded in 2004, the firm has 10 attorneys, but Jay Talerman would remain as lead general counsel — as he has been since 2014 — with Kate Feodoroff taking the role of labor counsel. She has been lead union contract negotiator for the city of Brockton before joining the firm. The firm represents 16 towns as general counsel and five as labor counsel.
“I hope that we’ve been responsive to you in the past and we will continue to do so,” Feodoroff said. “We like to address problems before they become problems and have solutions — and multiple solutions — so that you can choose from them.”
She said the firm has an open-door policy with McCue.
Brooks & DeRensis, founded in 2018, is also applying for both general and labor counsel. The firm’s 10 attorneys have deep experience on “both sides of the table” in both political and legal service, and also represent Canton, Mansfield and Randolph for both general and labor counsel. They represent several regional school districts, and have experience helping towns with economic development, as well.
“We’re the ones who are practical and are driven by common sense,” said partner Paul DeRensis.
Current labor counsel Norris, Murray & Peloquin has four partners and Leo Peloquin would remain the lead attorney for Hanson. Founded in 1997 as Collins, Loughran & Peloquin LLC, the firm represents 24 cities and towns and 13 school committees as well as Middleborough Gas & Electric and the Wareham Fire District/Water Department.
“I hope when you look at our record with the town that I treated it like a privilege,” Peloquin said, noting that less than 1 percent of cases he works goes to litigation. “We help [you] get things done.”
They provide towns with a monthly newsletter updating developments in labor law.
“They can say to you, ‘This is what we can do for you,’” Peloquin said of the competing law firms he knows and respects. “I’m sitting here tonight saying, ‘This is what we’ve done for you.’”
All firms except Norris, Murray & Peloquin have partners or associates who have served in elective office. All five noted the need for regular reviews of sexual harassment policy, especially in the wake of the #metoo movement. The firms provided fee estimates for both hourly and flat rates, while most advised that hourly rates may be more a accurate reflection of services received.
If a conflict arose between the towns of Hanson and East Bridgewater, which is involved in an inter-municipal IT agreement with Hanson, firms applying as general counsel indicated they would either step back from the issue or did not represent East Bridgewater. Full interviews can be viewed on WHCA-TV or its YouTube channel.