By Lauren N. Shields
The Meridian Times
The Meridian Township Board has decided on the process in the selection of its new legal representation. In a special meeting on Feb. 24, the board passed the motion for a committee of three board members, along with Meridian Township Manager Frank Walsh, to develop the criteria for the search. Once proposals came back, the committee will narrow the field to three candidates that will be interviewed by the full board.
“I move to set up a committee comprised of the manager, who we also need on that committee, Supervisor (Elizabeth) LeGoff, Trustee (Ronald) Styka and Clerk (Brett) Dreyfus to evaluate the (request for proposal) for legal services and to carry out the search process and bring to the board three finalists to interview,” said Treasurer Julie Brixie.
In the Feb. 17 meeting, Trustee John Veenstra mentioned the possibility of hiring an in-house attorney. The board has since decided that it will hire an outside firm that is more generalized, giving preference to those that are local.
Since 2001, Hubbard Law Firm represented the board as a general counsel. Because Hubbard Law Firm closed on Feb. 13, the board is without legal representation during this selection process. Not having legal counsel concerned Trustee Angela Wilson.
“We don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow, or next week, that maybe the treasurer’s office needs to deal with, or our planning department or our assessor or our clerk’s office or any one of our parks – anybody,” said Wilson. “Something could come up that (a department is) going to need legal counsel for and right now we don’t have it.”
Dreyfus, however, had a different stance.
“In respect to our immediate needs, keep in mind that we will have a $10,000 (monthly) retainer that we will not be paying,” said Dreyfus. “Even at a rate of $250 an hour, that would be 40 hours of service that we have available to us on an ongoing basis if we have a sudden need for legal services that would arise.
”Our previous attorneys have informed us last week that there are no hot-button issues currently. It is unlikely that something will drop into our laps that will require an immediate, emergency response. Ten thousand dollars a month should cover us in the meantime while we decide which direction we want to go in.”
In relation to the time allowed for this process, a second motion was passed. Veenstra proposed that the selection process take no more than four months. This would create a four-month window where Walsh would seek legal advice as needed, spending no more than $40,000.
“My motion is to authorize our manager to hire, on an ad hoc basis, such legal counsel as he finds needed for township business until we get a permanent legal arrangement,” said Veenstra. “The manager said that he felt that getting our permanent legal counsel was going to take eight weeks, or two months, so I guess we’re setting sort of an interim deadline. It might take a little longer than that, so maybe the way to go is to amend my motion to say four months, at not more than $40,000.”
Walsh agreed that this motion would be beneficial to the board.
“I think it gives us some flexibility to bring someone in to handle our needs for the next four months,” said Walsh.