Friday, May 22, 1998

Once again, town counsel is called on the carpet

by Claudia Miller

The tables were turned and it was the town counsel that was on trial, defending against complaints from town boards and committees.

Michael Fitzgerald, chair of the selectmen, noted that there were three areas which raised concern from town officials: timeliness of reports, a rotating legal staff and handling of land-use issues. The selectmen asked town officials to comment on the counsel after hearing a general uneasiness with the legal performance.

Leonard Kopelman of Kopelman and Paige, P.C. attended the May 12 selectmen's meeting to answer the complaints and work out a compromise.

Carlisle "has been unhappy for a few years," Kopelman admitted, stressing that he wanted to make the town happy.

Both the selectmen and Kopelman focused on the strongest complaints from the planning board. Kopelman suggested that if the town would like to find a separate counsel to represent this board, he would donate his firm's time during the transition. Pointing to the board's loss of confidence in the legal staff, Kopelman said that he believed members of the planning board would be dissatisfied with any representative from his law firm.

Kopelman explained that as land prices have increased in recent years, so have the number of land-use cases. During the recession, land-use was not a major concern to towns, said Kopelman. He added that his firm has hired two new attorneys with expertise in this area to handle the increasing workload.

John Ballantine, a recently elected member of the board of selectmen, surmised that it was not as much a question of the quality of legal advice as of relationships.

Representatives from town boards agreed, noting that even if the legal opinion is correct, officials remain skeptical.

Ballantine and fellow member Doug Stevenson agreed to look informally into the concerns and report back to the board in the coming weeks. Kopelman pledged that in the meantime, he would act as Carlisle's contact at the firm, parceling out work to fellow attorneys as needed, but monitoring the work flow and progress.