Reining in Skyrocketing Legal Fees

            On November 16 as the Mattapoisett Select Board discussed a variety of topics, one stood out as needing immediate attention. Town Administrator Mike Lorenco said that of the budgeted $80,000 for legal fees, nearly 60 percent had already been consumed, six months into the fiscal year.

            “We’ve been hit hard by legal fees,” Lorenco told the board members. While he understood the need for engaging legal expertise, Lorenco said the frequency, especially by some boards and committees, needed to be controlled.

            Before engaging with KPLaw, the town’s legal counsel, Lorenco said a board or committee should first be checking with him and/or the Select Board, not engaging counsel directly. He said he had prepared a draft policy for the board’s consideration, saying, “It would help us control costs.”

            The board was in agreement. Select Board member Tyler Macallister said, “There is a lot of institutional knowledge in town hall; someone may have an answer without going to KP (Law). It’s prudent for us to review this before we leak more money.”

            Select Board member Jodi Bauer said, “Things could be discussed with us first,” acknowledging the need to slow down rapidly accelerating legal costs. Chairman Jordan Collyer said, “At the end of the day, we have to protect the town’s interests and our own,” agreeing with his fellow board members that oversight is necessary.

            Lorenco stated, “I’m not trying to prohibit anyone from seeking legal help, but it’s too easy to pick up the phone and call KP Law.” He said he would also speak with the law firm to help establish a reasonable number of hours and share that a policy is being developed.

            Speaking of legal counsel, the board met with Attorney Mat Thomas, who has been engaged by the town to write a confirmatory takings document for Industrial Drive. Thomas said that over the years since 1957 the town has taken parcels along the roadway, but that now bringing disparate documents together into one confirming document would keep matters clean moving forward. He noted the Economic Development Grant that the town received and the need to ensure that all roadway legal documents are cohesive with regard to easements and takings.

            Lorenco said that the town has received $735,000 in EDG monies for the massive roadway redesign project planned for Industrial Drive. He also confirmed that during a Special Town Meeting voters approved a dollar-for-dollar match to get the project done.

            Holiday traditions and the new Fire Station Open House were also discussed. Lorenco said that not much had been done to prepare for holiday festivities in Shipyard Park known for years as Holiday in The Park. Bauer said she recently spoke to Public Health Nurse Emily Field regarding the state’s recommendations for such outdoor activities. She said she was awaiting word from Field.

            Board members were in agreement that a scaled-back celebration similar to December 2020 could take place. That celebration may include a school band playing in the gazebo, tree lighting at the park, and two fire engines carrying Santa’s helpers through the neighborhoods passing out candy. The event is tentatively scheduled for December 11.

            Lorenco also took the opportunity to remind the public that the Public Health Nurse would be dispensing COVID-19 booster shots and that a recent clinic was very successful.

            Public health considerations also came into play as the board members discussed the Saturday, December 11, open house celebration for the new fire station. The tentative time for the facility’s grand opening is scheduled for 10:30 am.

            The public will be invited, Lorenco said, to the apparatus floor with doors opened. Special invitations will be sent to those significant in making the new station a reality, he said. And bringing a bit more holiday joy, Lorenco said a toy drive will take place at the station that day.

            In other matters, the board appointed Linda Clifford to the Council on Aging Board of Directors. Clifford said she had been a practicing social worker specializing in elder affairs and hoped that her background would be of benefit to the community.

            Outgoing Town Band director James Farmer received a Certificate of Appreciation for his 31 years as the band director.

            Two special Select Board meetings are planned. On Monday, November 22, at 6:00 pm, the board will review goals and projects as well as hold a real estate tax classification hearing. On Tuesday, November 23, at 5:30 pm, the board will conduct final interviews for the position of Director of Inspectional Services. The next regular meeting of the Mattapoisett Select Board is scheduled for Tuesday, December 14, at 6:30 pm.

Mattapoisett Select Board

By Marilou Newell

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