The City Council has called for a closer look in its Ways & Means Committee on spending for outside legal services, which amounted to more than $2.6 million over the last five fiscal years just on the City side of things.
Most of the expenditures came from Mintz Levin in Fiscal Year 2018, and that involved defending the City on the Power Plant tax issue, which was a $659,771 cost that year. However, Councilor Fred Capone pointed out that KP Law – the City’s designated outside legal counsel – has averaged around $160,000 per year in each of the five years, an expenditure he is questioning.
Councilor Capone had requested information on how much the City spends on outside legal services, particularly due to the fact that an outside attorney is present at almost every Zoning Board and Planning Board meeting as a City advisor – sometimes in combination with City Solicitor staff as well.
He said with a full contingent of City attorneys – including a Solicitor, two assistant solicitors and a full-time paralegal – those expenditures might be able to be kept lower.
“We have three full-time legal attorneys from the City,” he said. “They make good money so maybe we can cut back on spending so much on outside counsel…You start to question. A lot of Cities have only outside legal counsel and they save on benefits and salaries. Some have a liaison and filter it out to other firms. It’s become too much of a security blanket. All our attorneys went to school and are firmly qualified to answer questions. The reality is we should be able to handle most of what we do in-house. The fact we pay to have an outside attorney at every Board meeting is a bit ridiculous.”
Councilor Michael McLaughlin called for the matter to go to Ways & Means Committee, and said he was also concerned about the outside legal counsel expenditures.
The numbers for legal expenditures were as follows:
•Fiscal Year 2017 – $472,118 ($172,708 – KP Law)
•Fiscal Year 2018 – $1.004 million ($122,237 – KP Law)
•Fiscal Year 2019 – $425,202 ($160,263 – KP Law)
•Fiscal Year 2020 – $521,309 ($180,374 – KP Law)
•Fiscal Year 2021 (to date) – $189,490 ($131,262 KP Law)
As a comparison, the Everett Public Schools spent about an average of $180,000 per year on outside legal counsel, with most of that going to the School Committee’s legal representation, now Attorney Bob Galvin.
Capone said he realizes there have to be some outside legal expenditures for the City, including tax title takings and other required matters. However, he said he felt it would be a good idea to see if more things could be done in house on routine matters.
•Getting the Police Force Up
Police Chief Steve Mazzie was before the Council to get approval for two lateral transfers onto the Police force – one a local man now working in Nahant and the other an officer now working in Brookline. Both transfers were approved, but Mazzie said such transfers will be more common as the Police look to hire laterals and new officers as a plan to restore the ranks.
Mazzie said over the last 18 months there have been about 18 retirements, and more are on the way. That has left the ranks seriously shorthanded, and he and Mayor Carlo DeMaria have made a plan to bring on new officers with a double-trucked strategy.
“That’s a lot of retirements for us in a short period of time,” said the Chief. “We didn’t start hiring last year because of the uncertainty of last year. We have started hiring because this is going to be an evolving process. We have more people in the wings ready to retire in the next year. Lateral transfers have been trained and vetted and have a work history. We’ll actually be doing both to get the staffing numbers up to normal numbers.”
One of the key issues is when the police take a person off of the Civil Service list, it takes up to one year to get them on the street – if they make it through.
“It takes about a year to get someone from the Civil Service list to the street, once you hire them and get them into an academy and go through field training,” he said.
Councilor Rosa DiFlorio indicated she would like to get an update from the State Delegation about the Nip alcohol bottle legislation that looked to include nips in the bottle bill and, thus, reduce the litter they cause.
“If anybody has been walking in Everett, especially on Belmont Street, they would know there are nip bottles everywhere,” she said. “Homeowners shouldn’t be made to clean up all this mess that they don’t make.”
Councilor Fred Capone agreed, saying he finds them on his home on Broadway in the bushes and the yard. He said he felt the right way to handle it is to include them in the bottle bill. Meanwhile, in Chelsea, their nip bottle ban has held up last year to an appeal at the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission (ABCC) last summer. No appeal in Superior Court was ever filed to protest that ruling. Meanwhile, late last month, the Attorney General’s Office approved the nip bottle ban in Falmouth – a further victory for the Chelsea ban, which was the first all-out ban of the sale of nips in the state. City officials there focused the ban on improving public health and public drinking, and early statistics show it has made a difference.