HANSON — The Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, April 27, voted to appoint Katherine M. Feodoroff of Mead, Talerman & Costa LLC as Town Labor Counsel for an indefinite term.
Feodoroff said she looks forward to the added responsibility especially during the “complicated time” Hanson is now going through.
At the same time, the board discussed policy revisions to access to town counsel in an effort to control legal costs. Feodoroff will now review the policy and the board will return to the issue next month.
“Since Leo Peloquin left, we’ve had some issues — I’ll just say it — with labor counsel,” said Selectmen Chairman Kenny Mitchell, who said he has been working with Feodoroff for six weeks on personnel issues.
With interim Town Administrator Lisa Green coming on board, he said some direction is required from labor counsel.
“Kate is great,” Mitchell said. “She gets right back to me. She explains things so you can understand it — in layman’s terms. … I think it’s the right move.”
Selectman James Hickey agreed, citing the marijuana grow facility issue as one she explained in terms that were understandable.
“I understood it because I read it about 10 times, but Kate put that very important question into simpler terms so that everyone could understand it,” he said. “This isn’t going to come out right, but she doesn’t talk like a lawyer — she just talks like people talk.”
Selectman Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett concurred, stressing Feodoroff’s responsiveness, but expressed concern that “it’s kind of a one-off appointment.”
There was no search/interview process, as has been the case for other appointments, FitzGerald-Kemmett said of what she was concerned was a Band-Aid approach. The board had also discussed and decided not to retain the same firm for general and labor counsel work.
“I really can’t express how much I appreciate working with Kate, but … do we have a responsibility to do some due diligence around cost?” she asked. “Do we have some responsibility to take a look at fee arrangements?”
Hickey said he views the move as one to get the town through the COVID-19 crisis, and then go through the RFP process for hiring new full-time labor counsel.
“We sat down, we had everyone’s information, and we did those interviews with all the firms we were looking at, and we did do our due diligence and we went trough the entire process — and we still made a mistake,” he said of the last labor counsel hire. “Now, with the way COVID is going, we can’t do that.”
FitzGerald-Kemmett said she read indefinite to mean “pretty much forever,” but said, if the board’s intention is to revisit the issue as Hickey said, she would be “100-percent on board with this.”
Mitchell argued that Selectmen could look at cost, but that a town administrator’s working relationship with a firm is important.
Green said she became familiar with Feodoroff during sewage negotiations between Whitman and Brockton. Green is also a lawyer.
“Having a town counsel who is very knowledgeable and responsive is always extremely helpful, especially when something comes up where you need help right away,” Green said.
Selectman Matt Dyer said he agrees that for the immediate situation, Feodoroff should be hired in that role.
“We’ve got to have a little bit of direction on this, as far as contacting town counsel,” Mitchell said, noting that past practice has been to go through the town administrator or board chairman, but nothing was on paper.
“I’m not suggesting that Selectmen can’t contact town counsel — I’m not suggesting that at all,” Mitchell said. He wants the chairman or town administrator to know what is being asked so the question and its answer is known by the entire board to control duplication of effort.
Weekends and after hours calls should be limited to the town administrator or chairman, he said.
“We really need to scale it down as far as cost,” he said. “I think, if the policy is broken then the chairman should put it on the agenda for the next meeting and it should be discussed publically. I mean, we’re all adults here.”
If the inquiry is about the board chairman, and there is concern about confidentiality, then the vice chairman and the town administrator should be informed, Mitchell argued.
Hickey and Dyer agreed it was a good idea.
“You can’t have the chairman of the drainage committee contacting Kate about some crazy problem,” Hickey said. “We need to cut our legal costs, big time.”
FitzGerald-Kemmett agreed on most points, but is a bit hesitant about it because the town administrator works for the board and administrators usually have a close working relationship with town counsel.
“You could run into a political situation where you are stonewalled and you’ve got no recourse to do anything to get the legal advice that you need,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said, admitting that would be a rare circumstance. She also said she would expect the chair to talk to anyone who overstepped one-on-one, but in a “public, humiliating way.”
Other boards should be required to obtain a vote of the board before consulting town counsel. Mitchell agreed on that point.
“I’d like to see this tweaked a little bit,” she said.
She liked the idea of keeping a log and informing the rest of the board of information sought to limit duplication of effort.