Town seeks proposals for legal representation

BAR HARBOR — Town councilors approved a request for proposals for legal services to the town at their Aug. 18 meeting.

The current town attorney is Lee Bragg of the firm Bernstein Shur, Town Manager Cornell Knight said. But Bragg plans to retire partially in January of next year. Bar Harbor will continue to use him for bond work and maybe for employment matters, Knight said.

“Municipal governments are sizeable operations, so we do have various legal expenses,” Knight said Friday. These include “contracts, human resource issues, deeds, the YMCA lease, the sale of property, codes issues, planning board issues, board of appeals issues.”

In some cases, such as when fired police Chief Nate Young filed a claim against the town, Maine Municipal Association’s legal team takes over because the claim is covered under an insurance policy.

Rob Crawford, a municipal attorney at Bernstein Shur who has represented the town on planning board matters retired earlier this month.

“Bernstein Shur is our legal counsel, so it’s the whole firm. We used Lee and Rob, but the municipal attorneys are based in Portland. It just seemed like a good time to look at other proposals. We may use Bernstein Shur still on other issues, but we wanted to look at maybe a firm closer,” Knight said. “The hourly rate hasn’t changed since 2000, so rates will most likely be going up.”

Councilor Peter St. Germain moved at the meeting to appoint council chairman Paul Paradis and councilor David Bowden to a committee to review the proposals with Knight and make a recommendation for the top two firms to be interviewed by the entire council. Councilors also voted to increase the required professional liability insurance coverage limit from the $1 million listed in the draft RFP.

“If they represented us wrong, it could cost us a lot more than a million dollars, so we want to be sure that they’re insured. There have been incidents. They haven’t come to a million dollars, but there have been incidents.”

Legal spending

The town spent $67,420 in fiscal year 2014 on legal counsel and about $20,024 in fiscal year 2015, according to budget documents.

That included the interim town manager’s salary and benefits, and the consultant fee for the town manager search, paid to the law firm of Eaton Peabody. Interim manager James Ashe was working for Eaton Peabody’s consulting arm.

Another $45,000 in legal counsel expenses is attributable to the Murphy vs. Town of Bar Harbor lawsuit, Knight said.

Justice Stokes ruled that an appeal filed by the residents to stop Emera Maine from constructing an electrical substation in their neighborhood was not timely, and the town won that case.

Resident, attorney and substation advisory committee member Arthur Greif represented the Murphys. According to Knight, Greif filed an appeal to the Murphy case last week.

“He said at one of the Emera advisory committee meetings that he would withdraw the appeal once Emera had a building permit that wasn’t appealed, but he hasn’t withdrawn it,” Knight said. “So we’re going to have to file a response.”

Greif, representing resident Sam Dunlap, also filed a new complaint in Hancock County Superior Court last month challenging the town’s interpretation of election results from June of this year.

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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