WINCHESTER - At the June 22 Select Board meeting, the board interviewed their applicants for town counsel. They sent a Request for Proposal (RFP) out a few weeks ago, got several responses, and narrowed down the list to five law firms that they interviewed at this meeting.

Last night, in a 3-2 vote, the board selected Mead, Talerman & Costa. Members John Fallon, Michael Bettencourt and chair Rich Mucci all voted in favor while Mariano Goluboff and vice-chair Anthea Brady voted in the negative.

The board will now begin contract negotiations with Mead, Talerman & Costa. Current town counsel Anderson & Kreiger will remain on board until July 30 (and will likely stay on as lead counsel in some cases).

Mead, Talerman & Costa

The first law firm was Mead, Talerman & Costa and speaking for them was Jason R. Talerman and Katherine M. Feodoroff, both partners of the firm. The first question to them by the Select Board asked them to explain their approach to providing town counsel services.

Talerman said that the firm has been around since 2004 and has grown since then. He noted that “the way we wanted to look at municipal counsel services was a little bit different, we wanted to foster a team approach and we want to figure out ways to do that where we could be part of the team rather than the attorney that’s held at arm’s length that will just speak when spoken to.”

He added that they try to make themselves available through office hours, visits and have a series of flat fee arrangements that they have pioneered to make it comfortable for towns if they want to opt for that. They do seminars and will sit in with boards. Their fee structures allow them to sit in with boards and be very collaborative.

They value their relationship with town administrators and town managers and they generally approach this from being a member of the team. They are town counsel in 26 towns and special counsel for dozens of other towns, on occasion for the Town of Winchester. In regards to affordable housing, they do a lot of 40R’s and a tremendous amount of development agreements with developers who are bringing affordable housing projects into towns as well as projects with respect to use of town property.

Murphy Hesse Toomey & Lehane

The next firm was Murphy Hesse Toomey & Lehane. Attorney Karis North was in attendance as well as her colleagues Kevin S. Freytag and Cynthia Amara.

When asked by the Select Board to explain their approach if they were their town counsel and tell them about daily interactions and what they could expect from the town’s interaction with the firm, North stated that they thought a lot about the town and their fit with their skills and ability, the size of the town, the experience of the town and how it works with their other clients.

They use a team approach, stated North, but have a lead counsel that is overall responsible for everything and that would be North and Freytag, and Amara would be their back up. They work really hard to be responsive.

She noted that they really try to learn Winchester’s operation and work principally with the town manager, the chair of the Select Board and whomever else is authorized for legal services on their town charter.

Mariano Goluboff, board member, asked about affordable housing to which Amara stated she happens to do a lot of affordable housing work as does North and she is special counsel for affordable counsel trust and most recently they have done recent proposals in the last couple of months for town property and what they wanted to do with RFP and how they wanted to use it.

Miyares Harrington

The third firm was Miyares Harrington and in attendance were Donna Brewer, Ethan Dively and Bryan Bertram who would serve as back up council to Brewer. Brewer explained that she would be the lead counsel and the primary contact, but if for any reason she cannot be reached Dively and Bertram would be available.

They would get back to them within 24 hours when they receive an email and they would return calls the same day and if they hear that there is some type of emergency they will get back right away. They each would be aware of what’s going on in Winchester and work collaboratively in their office so anything going on in Winchester they all will know about it.

They will attend board meetings if asked and respond to any board questions or legal advice they might be looking for. Typically, their towns would have legal questions go through their town manager or the town administrator in order to control the access to town counsel services.

When asked about affordable housing, Brewer said that they have experience and she has drafted declarations of trust for affordable housing trusts. They have done long-term leases for town land and currently she is working on some litigation for affordable housing.

KP Law

The fourth proposal comprised of two law firms. Lauren Goldberg is the managing attorney at KP Law where she has been for about 20 years. The firm has about 45 lawyers at any one moment. The way that their firm works is that Winchester would have a primary contact which would be Goldberg and then a backup contact which would be George Pucci of KP Law, but then they would have land use contacts as well who would be Jonathan Silverstein and Mark Bobrowski with Blatman, Bobrowski, Haverty & Silverstein who they have worked with for a long time.

They are used to working together and their firms get along very well and are excited to get to work together. Goldberg stated that you don’t have to know anyone’s name but your team, and they will ensure that they get what they need. If there is a need for a specialist such as an election lawyer, they will bring them in.

Silverstein until March, and for 26 years, was at KP Law and he loves the firm and people. He left primarily for two reasons, he wanted to focus his practice on land use and also wanted to give up his commute to Boston. His reason for leaving KP Law was a very difficult decision because of his love for the people at the firm.

He said this is not a situation where two firms are competitors, they work collaboratively all the time on land use counsel and this wouldn’t be a new thing for them. When asked by the Select Board how their counsel will get to know the town’s personality because they are very busy, Goldberg stated that she works very well with other town managers, she goes to board meetings, department head meetings and she would definitely be able to do all those things. It doesn’t mean her involvement with other towns is a 24/7 thing or would take away time from Winchester.

Anderson & Kreiger

The final firm is Winchester’s current firm Anderson & Kreiger. In attendance was Stephanie Dubanowitz, head of their real estate team on the municipal side as well as Austin Anderson and main contact person Mina Makarious.

Makarious commented that their team is evolving. He is seeing more ability to very skilled people they have on their team to work directly with department heads, town managers and select board members. He said that Dubanowitz would work more directly with things related to real estate. Anderson will be continuing to take the lead in the zoning matters before they turn into bigger disputes.

Discussion

When asked by Mucci for comments during last night’s meeting, as the board attempted to narrow the five candidates down to one, Fallon nixed KP Law. Mucci agreed, feeling like the firm wasn’t the best fit for the town. Bettencourt echoed those statements, saying they were too deep into the private side.

Mucci then stated his top preferences which included Mead, Talerman & Costa. He dismissed Anderson & Kreiger, not because he disliked the services they provide for the town, but because of the retirement of Art Kreiger.

Initially, the board chose Anderson & Kreiger because of Kreiger’s land use abilities. Mucci stressed the town needs a top tier land use attorney.

“I don’t see the Kreiger void being filled,” he opined.

Mucci said Makarious would step in, but he didn’t feel that was in the best interest of the town. About Mead, Talerman & Costa, he noted how Jay Talerman represented the town previously and people he spoke with felt Talerman did a good job. He added the town could get to the same comfort level they have now with Anderson & Kreiger, but with better land use attorneys.

Goluboff and Brady, on the other hand, ranked Anderson & Kreiger as their top choice. Goluboff said he didn’t think the other firms were the best fit for Winchester.

“I don’t think it’s time to change from Anderson & Kreiger,” he said, adding how other boards and committees in town also support Anderson & Kreiger.

Brady explained how the Planning Board complimented Anderson & Kreiger on their work with land use. She said it makes sense to stay with Anderson & Kreiger.

“All these firms are well-respected,” Brady noted. “It’s risky to change legal counsel now.”

Mucci said, if the board makes the change, he hopes they could get the same comfort level with another firm. He reiterated his concerns with Anderson & Kreiger’s level of experience with land use.

With two members in favor of Mead, Talerman & Costa and two members in favor of Anderson & Kreiger, Bettencourt broke the tie by favoring Mead, Talerman & Costa. Like Mucci, he felt the void left by the retirement of Kreiger hasn’t been filled. He also said he received a lot of positive phone calls about Mead, Talerman & Costa.

When it came to a vote, Mead, Talerman & Costa received three votes, enough for approval. Mucci said he and Goluboff would take the lead on contract negotiations.

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