WILMINGTON, MA — At their meeting last week, the Wilmington Board of Selectmen voted, 4-1, to appoint KP Law as its new Town Counsel, effective July 1, and to attempt to retain Dan Deutsch, of Brooks & DeRensis, to serve as Special Town Counsel on matters related to Olin Chemical and New England Transrail.
Selectman Mike McCoy was the lone vote in opposition. McCoy supported hiring Brooks & DeRensis exclusively. Brooks & DeRensis was born out of Deutsch Williams, the firm that represented Wilmington for approximately 15 years, before it dissolved this spring.
The 90-minute discussion grew contentious, however, after McCoy and audience members feared that Attorney Deutsch would not agree to serve as Special Counsel if his firm was not hired, and when some in the audience suggested the Selectmen were not acting in the best interest of the town.
Unanimous Support For Dan Deutsch
“There’s no question that it’s important for us to seek to retain Dan Deutsch because of his experience in the Olin and New England Transrail cases. He’s been involved in Olin since 2005,” said Town Manager Jeff Hull, who referred to Deutsch as “highly competent” with whom he has a “very favorable” working relationship. “Anyone who assumes that role in a new capacity, it’s going to take some time – I’m guessing several months, six to eight months, maybe more than a year — to come up to speed.”
“Dan Deutsch is one of the best lawyers in the state, if not the country, when it comes to environmental law,” said Selectman Mike McCoy. “The front burner issue is Olin and New England Transrail… Olin needs to do their job and clean up their mess. They knocked out five our nine wells, our most precious natural resource.”
“Recognizing the importance of Olin and NET, I’d like to see the town retain Dan Deutsch so we don’t loose his expertise on a very important issue,” said Selectman Greg Bendel and echoed by his colleagues.
“I agree that the institutional knowledge that Dan Deutsch brings is likely irreplaceable,” said Selectman Jonathan Eaton. “I would very strongly suggest that we find a way to retain his services for Olin and New England Transrail. Doing so would serve our community best. And I understand that a Special Counsel usually applies a slightly elevated hourly rate.”
“We’re all in violent agreement that retaining Dan Deutsch is in the best interest of the town and we should be very aggressive to ensure that happens,” Eaton later emphasized.
The Heart Of The Conflict
“If you fire our current Town Counsel, I don’t think they’re going to come back and do Olin & NET. I’m just saying,” argued Selectman Mike McCoy. “Do you really think Brooks & DeRensis is going to want to let Dan Deutsch continue on knowing that they got the boot? They’ve been here for 15 years.”
“Dan Deutsch doesn’t have to say ‘Yes, I’ll be Special Town Counsel!’ You’re expecting him to say that after you just threw his firm under the bus? Are you kidding me? Is he supposed to be that much of a bigger person that you guys?,” said former Selectman Suzanne Sullivan during public comments, after the vote was cast. “If Dan Deutsch says no, and he has every right to do so, then what? We deserve to have the best counsel. Olin hires the best. They have the best environmental attorneys in the world, not just the country. If Dan Deutsch declines, we are screwed. Thank you very much.”
“Why take this risk right now? I hope Dan Deutsch agrees… I will personally reach out to him to stay on. If they don’t do it, I can totally understand why… I’ll beg. You’re taking a huge risk,” Sullivan later added. “Dan Deutsch and his firm has done a good job for this town. I still haven’t heard any reason given as to why to get rid of them. You’re leaving us at risk. I hope Brooks & DeRensis don’t take it too personally with what they’ve had to put up with from this board.”
Former Selectman Frank West also expressed reservations and asked the board to rethink its decision, noting the principles of the old Deutsch & Williams firm that served the town well for the past 15 years remain in place at the new Brooks & DeRensis firm.
“Everything has been going in the right direction for us at this point [with Dan Deutsch],” said resident Deb Thompson, an abutter to the Olin site. “It’s scary to have a new law firm come in [and potentially lose Deutsch]. I’d prefer to see someone who knows what’s going on and can really fight Olin.”
Resident Kelly Richards asked the Selectmen if they reached out to the neighborhood abutting the Olin site to get their opinions on how they feel Brooks & DeRensis were doing? No Selectmen directly answered the question. Selectmen Bendel acknowledged that he read all the correspondence from residents on the matter, most or all of which was favorable to keeping Brooks & DeRensis.
“I understand you don’t want to be held over a barrel just for one thing, but [Olin and New England Transrail] are such a huge issue, you can’t even take a half-step back,” said resident Geoff Wood. I think it was critical that you retain Brooks & DeRensis and farm out the labor if you wanted to instead.”
“You made your decision based on hope — hope that Dan Deutsch would come on,” said resident Rob Fasulo. “Rather than basing this decision on hope, did anyone show up at Brooks & DeRensis’s office? Was everything done to get the answer that Dan Deutsch would come on?”
“From the tenor of the comments, it seems that because of Dan Deutsch’s knowledge on Olin and New England Transrail, [audience members] are saying that the Board of Selectmen should retain his ENTIRE firm strictly on the basis of that ONE issue,” said Town Manager Jeff Hull. There’s no question it’s an important issue, but should the Selectmen have ALL its legal services — planning & conversation, general counsel, labor — hinged upon ONE individual who has history with this terrible environmental situation?”
To complicate matters, despite several requests from town administration prior to the meeting, Brooks & DeRensis failed to give Selectmen the answers to whether Dan Deutsch would be willing to serve as Special Town Counsel and what his rate would be. Additionally, Dan Deutsch had been on vacation during the run-up to the meeting.
“I had the Town Manager reach out to Mr. DeRensis, I believe on four of five occasions, to see if we could make arrangements to retain Dan Deutsch,” said Selectmen Chair Kevin Caira. “At least three times, there was a response that they didn’t provide us with what we were asking and two times, we received no response. That doesn’t mean if we choose a different firm tonight that we can’t still pursue Dan Deutsch as Special Town Counsel.”
“I communicated with Attorney Paul DeRensis verbally and via email, letting me know that the Selectmen were looking at multiple options, including… carving out the environmental piece,” confirmed Town Manager Jeff Hull. “For whatever reason, I didn’t get a response on that particular proposal. There were multiple exchanges on that question. DeRensis indicated he needed additional information, but never clarified with me what that information was. I can’t answer a question if I don’t know what someone is asking for.”
“I don’t blame Mr. DeRensis for not giving us an answer because that would make it easier for this board to decide to limit the scope of work we were giving to his firm,” noted Selectman Jonathan Eaton.
“We’ve reached out several times to see if [hiring Deutsch as Special Town Counsel] could happen. Town Manager Hull talked to Mr. DeRensis several times. It was just an avoidance of what we were trying to get from Mr. DeRensis to create a more difficult decision for all of us,” Seletmen Chair Kevin Caira later added.
Selectmen Defend Their Vote
In response to accusations that Selectmen were making their decision for political reasons (which was never fleshed out), several Board members took offense.
“I totally resent the notion that I’m up here for political gain,” said Selectman Greg Bendel. “I grew up in this community. My wife grew up in this community. We married and worked really hard to stay in this community and buy a home. We’re now raising our daughter here. I make decisions for families like mine and this community we love so much. I could care less about elections. I’m not running for higher office. I’m a school teacher volunteering his time… I realize difficult decisions need to be made sometime that won’t sit well with everyone. I sleep well knowing what I did was best for the community. There’s no political gain here and you can take that to the bank.”
“As some of you know, my brother is a survivor of leukemia, which may have come about from drinking contaminated ground water. I’ve lived my entire life in Wilmington… I’m not making this decision for political purposes. It serves me no advantage,” said Selectman Jonathan Eaton. “I recognize that Dan Deutsch is one of the best attorneys in the Commonwealth for such a sensitive and high conflict issue. We need to prioritize retaining him, so other families don’t have to go through what my family went to. And my family is one of the lucky ones… We’re going with a different model [utilizing a special counsel] than done in recent history, but we’re certainly not ignoring Olin’s neighbors.”
“Every decision I make is for the Town of Wilmington. This is not political in my eyes,” said Selectman Ed Loud. “KP Law represents Randolph on a similar environmental issue; Dan Deutsch already several as special town counsel to other towns; and Brooks and DeRensis, [which has only been open 3 months], is NOT the same firm that former Selectmen Frank West and Suzanne Sullivan hired in 2003…. Watch their interview with us. I said that night I was disappointed in the firm. I was very disappointed and expected a lot more out of them.”
Why KP Law?
For the benefit of the audience, the four Selectmen who voted for KP Law did not explicitly compare and contrast KP Law with Brooks and DeRensis during last Monday’s meeting, but they did outline their own research processes which led them to their decisions.
The Selectmen reviewed the interviews with the five firms in contention; reread resumes; checked references; reviewed the search committee’s recommendations; spoke with the Town Manager, Assistant Town Manager and Department Heads; and sought the opinions of past Selectmen.
“I found myself impressed with a number of the firms. Through my research, I found that it’s not very uncommon for communities to have a counsel and then a separate labor counsel or to retain someone for a particular issue. In fact, I found it’s more common that not. I’m looking for some sort of combination deal,” said Selectman Greg Bendel. “I’m impressed by Mead and PD Law. I was also impressed with Peloquin for Labor Counsel. And recognizing the importance of Olin and NET, I’d like to see the town retain Dan Deutsch as Special Counsel.”
Bendel pointed specifically to Wilmington’s neighbors in North Reading and Billerica as having provided very good references for KP Law.
“This is the biggest decision I have made in my 1.5 years on the board. I’ve taken it very seriously. I talked to all the Department Heads on the search committee and a few others. I talked to a few former Selectmen. I talked to a few towns who have or had Brooks & DeRensis as a firm….,” said Selectman Ed Loud. “I’m prepared to support KP Law, with – of course – special town counsel for Dan Deutsch to handle Olin and New England Transrail. I think that’ll be best for the town.”
Selectman Jonathan Eaton noted that as part of his research, he reached out to Nantucket, which is a current client of KP Law and a former client of Brooks & DeRensis. A reference, in the town’s Planning Department, told Eaton that KP Law’s service “was way superior” to that of Brooks & DeRensis.
“I want to praise all five firms for presenting. I called references. I talked to Department Heads. I talked to former Selectmen. I called two towns,” said Selectmen Chair Kevin Caira. “I came to the same feeling that KP Law and Mead are the two firms I thought would best serve the town. Peloquin, for labor, is outstanding. And I asked Town Manager to reach out to Brooks & DeRensis regarding Mr. Deutsch as Special Counsel.”
McCoy noted that two of fellow Town Managers that Hull reached out to did not have particularly favorable comments towards KP Law. McCoy pointed out that noneo f the three Department Heads on the Search Committee said anything negative towards Brooks and DeRensis. He also noted that Brooks and DeRensis’s flat fee is $288,000, slightly lower than KP Law.
Selectmen ultimately decided to engage KP Law as General Counsel and seek out Dan Deutsch, of Brooks & DeRensis, as Special Town Counsel. The motion was made by Selectman Ed Loud. Selectman Greg Bendel suggested adding Peloquin to the motion to handle the town’s labor legal services, but Loud opted not to include them. The motion carried, 4-1, with McCoy in opposition.
Selectmen left it up to Hull as to whether to agree to KP Law’s $300,000 annual flat fee fixed amount, or a scenario where the town would agree to pay up to $312,000, but would pay less if KP Law’s billable hours totaled a lesser amount, potentially lower than $300,000.
Dan Deutsch Update
In response to an email from Wilmington Apple on July 1, Town Manager Jeff Hull provided a brief update on the town’s efforts to acquire the services of Dan Deutsch:
“I expect that an arrangement will be reached for Dan Deutsch to continue to represent the Town with respect to Olin and NET,” wrote Hull. “I have spoken with Paul DeRensis and expressed the Selectmen’s desire to retain Dan Deutsch as special counsel. As of last Friday, June 29th the terms have not been finalized. Due to the holiday week and vacations, I do not expect agreement on a new arrangement will be reached before July 9th. Any arrangement for special counsel services will require the approval of the Board of Selectmen.”
Wilmington Apple did its best to capture the 100+ minute conversation, but watch it for yourself courtesy of Wilmington Community Television below. The action begins around the 1-hour, 7-minute, 30-second mark.
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