BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. — This week the village trustees voted 3-2 to explore the cost benefit to hiring a village attorney and to consider the best options for meeting the village’s future legal needs.
In making the motion Trustee Jonathan Wright cited resident concerns during the last year about the village’s use of local attorney Ray Massucco for legal services, saying that Massucco also represents a large number of residents and businesses in the village, which could cause a potential conflict of interest.
“It might be prudent in this day and age to bring in an attorney from outside the community,” Wright said. “Just someone less associated with this area, with an affinity in municipal government.”
Wright said he mainly wanted the board to review its legal needs in the next three-to-five years, and submit a request for an estimate to learn about available attorneys, costs for service, and the village’s best options for structuring a contract.
According to Village President Deborah Wright, the village does not have a specified contract with Massucco. The village has used Massucco as needed for legal services and contract negotiations for approximately 20 years.
Trustee James McAuliffe supported the motion to look for a village attorney but said his main interest was to compare cost-savings.
Trustee Stefan Golec disagreed with McAuliffe about possible cost-benefit, saying that Massucco has historically given the village discounts on bills that outside attorneys would not.
Massucco told the board that he has not had one conflict of interest throughout his service to the town.
Deborah Wright expressed her concern yesterday about using an attorney with so many clients in the community, though stated that her interest is exploring the village’s needs and options is not a dissatisfaction with Massucco’s service, and that the village might award him a contract if the trustees elect that route.
Trustees consider charter change, new village meeting date
The trustees said they want to start gathering public input to find the best date and time to hold the annual village meeting, citing an intent to maximize public attendance.
Wright said that holding the meeting in May is too long after the Rockingham Town Meeting and too close to the end of the school year, that the community’s attention becomes far removed from the Village Meeting.
“Years ago it used to be in March right before the Rockingham Selectboard meeting,” Wright said. “I don’t remember why the trustees decided to change it.
On Tuesday Municipal Manager Wendy Harrisson said that the trustees will need to first change the language in the village charter, which specified that the village meeting be held on the third Monday in May. Harrison said that would require a public vote before being sent to the state for approval.
Harrison estimated that the soonest the date change could take effect would be in 2021.
Jonathan Wright proposed that the board use this time to gather community input about the best date, dates and times to increase public attendance.
“If we’re going to do this it’s going to take a couple of years,” Wright said. “Let’s get their feedback so we can make a change that’s positive for the community.”
Trustees also want public input about which day of the week would be best. Deborah Wright noted, for example, that some neighboring communities hold their meetings on a Saturday. Bellows Falls could possibly discuss and vote on the warrant on Saturday and vote for representatives on Monday, or combine both parts of the meeting into a one day event.