Attorney: Montville council, not mayor, should hire labor lawyers

Jerry O'Malley

After a monthlong dispute between Town Council members and Mayor Ron McDaniel, an outside law firm recently found that the council has the authority to pick an attorney for all town matters, including labor issues.

For years, the issues were handled by lawyers selected by the mayor’s office.

A majority of councilors last month objected to any continued use of Suisman Shapiro, the former town attorney, beyond some ongoing personnel matters for which the firm had already provided legal assistance. The councilors argued that according to the charter, the Town Council-selected Halloran Sage law firm should handle all town matters moving forward, including labor and personnel issues.

McDaniel and councilors Joe Jaskiewicz and Billy Caron argued the charter authorizes the mayor to pick a legal team for labor matters.

In a letter sent to Town Council Chairman Tom McNally and McDaniel last week, which The Day obtained Friday after filing a Freedom of Information Act request, Jerome O’Malley of Tobin, Carberry, O’Malley, Riley and Selinger provided an outside opinion on the divergent charter interpretations.

O’Malley argued that while the charter allows the mayor to hire a professional labor negotiator for collective bargaining agreements, “The broad and plain authority conferred upon the Town Council (by the charter) to appoint a town attorney for ‘all matters affecting the town’ exceeds the limited authority of the mayor.”

McDaniel on Friday said while he maintains “that 99 percent of the labor issues that require legal assistance stem directly from collective bargaining agreements,” he would abide by the third opinion provided by O’Malley.

The mayor noted he is not bound to use Halloran Sage as a labor negotiator.

“I will make that decision when the time comes, but I will use the town attorney for other labor issues,” he said.

O’Malley said that “a professional labor negotiator need not be an attorney,” and added that the council’s final call on a town attorney superseded the past practices of the mayor’s office.

“It sounds like this firm has agreed with what the five of us have been saying since day one,” McNally said Friday, referencing the Republican majority on the council.

Wills Pike, deputy Town Council chairman, said he thought the third opinion was the right one.

“The council always trumps the mayor in terms of the charter,” Pike said. “I think the charter’s pretty clear.”

The manner in which the dispute was resolved, however, could arise again between councilors.

McDaniel noted that McNally chose Tobin, Carberry, O’Malley, Riley and Selinger without consulting him, and Jaskiewicz and Caron argued the Town Council should have voted on the choice of outside legal counsel for the third opinion.

“This item was discussed and tabled in August,” Jaskiewicz said, arguing it didn’t matter whether McNally had discussed getting a third opinion with the mayor. “The legislative body votes on this.”

McNally countered that “additional use of attorney” is within the budget “and does not require a special vote.”

By: Benjamin Kail, The Day staff writer

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