With concern expressed because of the resolution’s ground-breaking status, the RTM on Wednesday, blocked a proposal to add legal oversight by town bodies, such as the Board of Finance, to the capacity to initiate a lawsuit.
At present, the first selectman, as the chief executive officer of the town, has the innate power to begin a lawsuit on behalf of the town. Former first selectman and present third selectman John E. Opie, a Republican, had drafted the proposal.
“I’m not finding that breaking new ground is the way to do this,” said Andrew Campbell, a Democrat, who presented the report from the Rules and Ordinance Committee. The committee had voted down the proposal as drafted Tuesday night.
“We don’t have firm ground to go forward on in this committee,” he said.
With 10 members in opposition, eleven members of the RTM voted not to refer the proposal back to committee for more study, effectively killing the proposal for this term.
Campbell also termed the area of attorney-client privilege very gray were, for instance, the town’s six-member board of finance to discuss a lawsuit before the town proceeded with it.
Representative Paul Muniz, who is also a Democrat, termed the proposal half-baked.
Opie came to the meeting to disagree with the R & O committee’s assessment. In his presentation before the RTM he said flatly, “This is about business and the business practices of the town.”
He observed that the town does not often initiate a lawsuit, but that, recently, it had undertaken two. The first is the lawsuit the town undertook against its insurance carriers to cover not only a judgment in the Tabor land case but also the suit’s substantial legal costs and fees.
The second, and the lawsuit that Opie sees as the more ominous of the two, has involved the town in litigation against the _that once served as town counsel.
“This is not going to end well,” Opie observed of the second case. “If you lose, there will be repercussions.”
“Once the pin is pulled on a grenade, there’s not a lot to talk about,” he said. “The ramifications could be in the millions.”
To assert what is presently the first selectman’s right to initiate a suit, he had suggested in his proposal, that oversight come from the Board of Finance which, with six members, plus the first selectman, he deemed just the right size to determine the merits of a suit.
“There’s really no harm in doing this,” he said.
Minority Leader Frank Twohill, Jr., who supported the resolution as a matter of checks and balances within town government, pointed out that a lawsuit can go well beyond the two-year term of the first selectman who initiates it.
Yet, he said, it can cost the taxpayer thousands and thousands of dollars.
After the full RTM blocked the resolution, Representative Richard Greenalch, Jr., acknowledged that he had seen the defeat coming.
“If we don’t look at reversing the [committee] decision tonight, we [should] look at doing so next year.
“It’s implied in here,” he said of the additional oversight. “What we want is to make it direct.”
Also at the meeting, the representatives discussed the creation of a town policy concerning An article will follow on that.