Town considers bids for counsel

Wilton has retained attorney Ken Bernhard of Bridgeport firm Cohen and Wolf as its municipal adviser since 1992, but following conversations that First Selectman Lynne Vanderslice said began “last month,” town executives are now considering going out to bid for general counsel.
“All I was proposing,” said Selectman Michael Kaelin at the Jan. 4 Board of Selectmen meeting, “was that we solicit bids for town counsel — that any law firm interested can submit a bid or a proposed engagement agreement with the town.”
According to Vanderslice, the Board of Education did what the selectmen are now considering and once in the past solicited bids for its own counsel. It ended up retaining Shipman & Goodwin, which had been its adviser anyway.
But Selectman Dick Dubow, who was on that board when those actions were taken, remembers certain problems with the process. “It was very difficult to compare [the firms],” he recalled. “Some tried to lowball hours — it got fuzzy.
“In a competitive bidding situation, obviously people try to present the most attractive bid, but when you talked to other municipalities, you found that their actual billing hours turned out to be much higher.”
Kaelin pointed out that the pool of candidates he and his fellow selectmen or whatever subcommittee would have to vet is a small one. “My impression is, there’s only a handful of firms that regularly represent municipalities in Connecticut,” he said.
“I think that we should probably operate as a full board in terms of making a decision,” said Dubow, acknowledging that the seat left vacant by Ken Dartley’s November resignation remains empty. However, he agreed, “I would suggest that we [do this].”
“I’ll volunteer to do some more research, to find out what would be a fair and appropriate way to do it, and then I’ll report back,” Kaelin said, asking thatdiscussion and/or action be listed on the Feb. 1 agenda.
David Clune raised the question of whether Wilton should request proposals for general retainer only, or do so for the other types of legal consulting as well, such as labor-related and bond counsels.
He did not receive a direct reply, but Clune’s comments opened up another avenue of consideration. As of the Jan. 4 Board of Selectmen’s meeting, town executives had yet to see the written retainer agreement between Wilton and Cohen and Wolf.
“There could be an engagement agreement we went into 32 years ago with them … and every year they give us a new rate scale — that’s what we need to find,” Kaelin said.
According to Vanderslice, counsel is normally appointed as of Dec. 1 with all other town officers, “but because this question had come up, we didn’t [in 2015],” she said, adding that in any event, Wilton’s selectmen are discussing this for the next fiscal year, not this one.