Same BCWA Issue, Same Outcome
The Bristol County Water Authority board splits 4-3 to retain Cameron & Mittleman, specifically partner Sandra Mack, its longtime attorney, as its legal counsel.
The board of the Bristol County Water Authority did a do-over Wednesday evening for the hiring of its legal counsel. Nothing changed.
The outcome was the same as the first time last month – although the vote of the board members was closer, 4-3. It was 5-2 the first time. Two members were absent both times.
The BCWA voted to retain Cameron & Mittleman, specifically partner Sandra Mack, as its legal counsel in a special meeting in Warren. The second meeting was set up after the first meeting was challenged as a possible open-meetings violation.
Mack, who has been providing most of the legal services for the BCWA since 1986, said she had “no reaction” – several times -- to the split vote by the board. She watched from the audience as the board and several “watchdogs” batted around her previous service to the water authority.
The board members who voted to retain Cameron & Mittleman were the chairman, Allan Klepper of Barrington, John Jannitto of Warren, Paul Bishop of Bristol and vice chairman William Gosselin of Warren. They offered similar reasons to retain her.
Jannitto, a former chairman, said: “I’m convinced we have good, competent legal services.”
Bishop said: “She’s done an excellent job in the one and a half years I’ve been on the board. I see no reason to make a change.”
Gosselin said: “I understand the passion” of those who testified against retaining Mack. But, he said, he had to support her after he asked Executive Director Pamela Marchand how important Mack was to her.
“Cameron & Mittleman knows the players that I think would be difficult for a new firm” to get a handle on,” said Marchand.
Klepper, who spoke last and, in effect, broke a 3-3 tie, said: “She understands all the players and issues that we will confront in the future. She has the most thorough grasp of the issues, and she has agreed to a cap” on her compensation.
The board members who did not support a motion made by Jannitto to retain Mack were Kevin Fitta of Barrington, Ray Palmieri of Warren and Robert Allio of Barrington. They offered similar reasons to go in a different direction.
Palmieri said: “I cannot support Mack” because “her costs are higher than other firms ($375 an hour typically), there was a lack of detail in her invoicing, and her advice on open records led to litigation.”
She also drafted what he termed an inappropriate letter seeking information on three ratepayers who were trying to get information from other sources because they couldn’t get it from BCWA on her watch.
“We’ll get the business-as-usual mode,” Palmieri said.
Fitta said: “All the firms we talked to are qualified. So we should consider rotating professional services over time.”
“There also is a public perception issue, rightly or wrongly,” he said. “And the other firms are less expensive.”
Allio said: “All organizations need to pay attention to new perspectives, and look elsewhere for that.”
Gary Morse of Barrington, one of the watchdogs who was a target of the so-called inappropriate letter, asked the board to consider the fact that a strategic plan called for under the Bristol County Water Act was never completed on Mack’s watch.
Jeff Black of Barrington, another watchdog who filed open-records litigation against BCWA with Mack on retainer, said: “We had to pull teeth to get information. There was a total lack of transparency.”
He also said other firms have lower fees, which “bothers me a lot because these fees were paid while the infrastructure was deteriorating.”
Marina Peterson of Bristol, the third watchdog, said: “With her as counsel, we had to dig so hard to get the truth, and that’s very disconcerting.”
The other firms interviewed twice by the board are Keough & Sweeney, LTD and Schacht & McElroy. Petrarca & McGair could not do a second interview, said Klepper, but asked to be reconsidered. Adler Pollock & Sheehan also could not do a second interview.