After interviewing four candidates for Halifax Town Counsel Friday morning, the board voted at their Tuesday night’s meeting to hire the Boston firm of Brooks & DeRensis. Selectmen Gordon Andrews and Ashley DiSesa voted for Brooks & DeRensis,. Garron wanted to retain Attorney Larry Mayo and voted “no” on appointing Brooks & DeRensis.
The Halifax Board of Selectmen met in-person on Friday morning June 25 during which time they held interviews with four different candidates for Town Counsel.
The first interview was with Paul R. DeRensis. DeRensis began by saying, “I have a history of service to the town going back twenty years; I think I met Troy way, way back… I’ve been serving the town ever since in various capacities… I like the people that I work with, I’ve liked the town, I’ve liked the feel of the town.” He went on to describe his firm as “practical,” “loyal,” and “caring.” He said he has served as a town counsel continuously since 1986. He said that what makes him unique is that he has also been a Select Board member for 9 terms and 27 years. Prior to that he served on the Planning Board and Finance Committee in his own town. DeRensis said that he is also a former president of the Massachusetts Select Board Association. Additionally, he has ten years’ experience on the MMA Board of Directors. “I’ve been an advisor on local affairs to two governors – Deval Patrick and Charlie Baker,” he told the Selectmen. He said that he brings a combination of town counsel experience and an understanding of what it is like to be sitting on the same side of the table as the Selectmen. He confirmed that his firm has a number of lawyers. An associate at his firm also spoke. Leonard Kopelman, who grew the firm KP Law, said that he had previously served as town counsel for Hanson, Pembroke, Carver, Kingston, Rockland, Plymouth, and Lakeville.
Selectman Chair Gordon Andrews asked how many clients they have in the area at this moment. DeRensis said they are very choosy about their clients. He listed several towns including Cohasset that he is currently serving as town counsel for. Selectman Troy Garron asked, “Why should we choose you?” The simple answer given was “because we care” and “I know how to get it done.” Town Administrator Charlie Seelig asked about their preferences for going about giving legal counsel asking if other town Boards and Committees should go through what he called a legal gatekeeper first. DeRensis said that they prefer to use a request for legal services (RLS) and have it signed off on by either a member of the Board of Selectmen or the Town Administrator.
Next to interview was the firm Mead, Talerman & Costa. Partners Lisa Mead, Jason Talerman, and Katherine Feodoroff were all present. Mead, who is a former Mayor of Newburyport, said their firm was formed in 2004 as a municipal law firm that focused mostly on land use law. Mead said that when she was the Mayor, she would often have the City Solicitor come in to work with department heads so there was some cohesion within the legal department and they were “part of the team.” She said that when they created the firm, they aimed to do so in the same way. Mead said that in 2007 they got their first town counsel job with the town of Ashland. “We now represent 23 municipalities as town counsel,” Mead said. She said the goal of their firm is to provide preventative services to a municipality rather than merely acting in a reactionary manner.
Talerman also spoke saying that he is Town Moderator in his town. “Like Lisa, I felt that we should be, again, fostering that team approach,” he explained. He said that they hope to foster an approach where the town would go to counsel before a problem arises to avoid the most expensive option which is litigation. He explained their financial approach saying they provide “this uniform series of contracts and other documents so to help on the contracts or the day-to-day administrative stuff; the rest of it was we developed a series of flat fees… there is tons of shades of gray… but what they are is you have kind of a measurement of what the expected legal budget would be.” “It accomplishes two things, one it provides uniformity and predictability… you pay us a set amount every month,” he continued. He said that financially it all levels out as some months it benefits the firm and other months the town.
Feodoroff also spoke saying that when she was brought on board, she was the Senior Assistant Solicitor in Brockton. “The idea was to broaden the practice to make it a comprehensive, all inclusive firm because in the city of Brockton… I was the lead counsel for all our labor employment matters so I took on that role here,” she explained. She said she also handles marijuana cases.
“I don’t understand, you’re doing so well, why do you want Halifax, why do you want to be counsel here?” Garron asked. “This is going to sound a little geeky, but we really like this stuff,” Talerman said. Mead said they don’t want to sit on their laurels and noted they want to take on more communities. Newest member of the Board of Selectmen Ashley DiSesa asked how accessible the firm would be to the town. Mead said, “One of the things I think that is a hallmark of our firm is our responsiveness.” She went on to say that the town would be assigned a lead attorney as well as a backup. DiSesa also asked how they would like to receive requests for their services from the town. Talerman called it an internal issue saying that there were shades of gray regarding that issue for each of the towns they currently represent. “We are most betrothed to the Select Board,” he did note.
Next to interview was Jason M. Rawlins of Rawlins|Asack LLC. Rawlins acknowledged the prestige of the previous firms to interview before him but said, “I’m a very different situation. I am what I would consider to be truly a local, town attorney.” He continued, “This building is on 499 Plymouth St., I actually grew up at 1115 Plymouth St.” He said he is an active member of the Halifax community and has been volunteering with the senior center for over ten years. He said his wife and father-in-law both work with him. Rawlins said he is currently the town attorney for Bridgewater. He stressed the importance of personal relationships in his work as well as being part of the community. He called his resume extensive saying it would speak for itself. He stressed his differences with the big firms saying how accessible he is and that it would always be him to answer the phone.
Seelig asked what his strategy would be for defending town officials when he knows that those officials have taken actions that he would not have recommended or even actions that are illegal. Rawlins said that his job is to defend the action. “I zealously defend whoever my client is,” he told the Board and Seelig. “My job is to not judge the situation,” he continued.
The final interviewee was Lawrence P. Mayo, the current Town Counsel for Halifax. Mayo has been the Town Counsel for the past 11 years. “I would like to continue the relationship with Halifax; general, municipal, and state government law is my forte I would say; it’s one of the principal components of my practice,” he explained. Mayo previously worked as Assistant Corporation Counsel for the city of Boston for 4 or 5 years. Once he started his own firm, he said he took on a number of municipal clients including but not limited to the city of Lawrence and the Massachusetts State Lottery Commission. “In representing all of these different governmental clients I’ve been responsible, if you will, for advising and representing these different entities.” He said he has handled both complex as well as mundane issues across a variety of governmental areas. “What you have to do as good legal counsel is provide good, accurate, and fair advice, not advice that the particular individual may find most appealing to him or her,” Mayo said. Mayo said that Halifax is the only town that he currently represents. Asked how accessible he is, he said, “I like to think I’m very accessible.”
Andrews asked Mayo how he thought communication could be improved with Town Counsel. “If and when a particular Board member contacts me, it’s made clear whether they are contacting me for purposes of representing the Board… or are they contacting me for purposes of discussing something they need personal guidance on in the realm of their official capacity, of course,” Mayo said. He said it’s important to him to know if a member is contacting him more on an individual basis or as a representative of a Board. Asked about the separation of legal counsel in town, Mayo said “with respect to, in particular, real estate counsel and town counsel… it could be more advantageous to have it wrapped up within one particular entity.” Asked how he has benefitted the town, Mayo said he believes he is good with prioritizing what needs to be done as well as having an open line of communication.
The Board decided to hold off on voting until the following Tuesday’s meeting. DiSesa said that would allow them to check references.