Following a year-long review of who to hire as Wilton’s town counsel, the Board of Selectmen voted at a special meeting last night to name Ira Bloom, an attorney with the law firm of Berchem, Moses & Devlin, as Wilton’s new town counsel. The selectmen voted to approve his selection by a vote of 3-1, after he was recommended to them by the legal search committee last night.
The three selectmen who voted in favor of Bloom’s appointment were first selectman Lynne Vanderslice, Dave Clune and Lori Bufano; Dick Dubow was the lone vote against the appointment. BoS member Michael Kaelin was not in attendance.
The four selectmen who voted last night also served on the legal search committee–Clune served as chair. They were joined by a fifth member, Wilton resident Josh Cole, who was seated on the committee when Kaelin recused himself early in the search process because the law firm where Kaelin’s brother works was one of the firms in consideration. Cole currently is the vice chair of Wilton’s Zoning Board of Appeals. There were three town employees who also served on the search committee as non-voting members–town planner Bob Nerney, town CFO Anne Kelly-Lenz and director of human resources Sara Taffel.
Bloom will replace Ken Bernhard of Cohen and Wolfe, who has served as Wilton’s town counsel since 1992.
The BoS undertook the review and a search after the question was raised about the role of town counsel last December, shortly after the current board was seated and when it was discovered that there was no existing retainer with Cohen and Wolfe in place. After some weeks of debate among BoS members regarding the role of town counsel, they formed a search committee to start a formal review and search, noting that Cohen and Wolfe could participate in the process if it chose to.
Cohen and Wolfe had worked with Wilton officials through every major municipal contract negotiation over the last two decades–including most recently with Yankee Gas and the many capital building projects, as noted by Clune last night–as well as represented Wilton in litigation against the town in cases like the one brought by Sensible Wilton over the Miller-Driscoll renovation project.
Some residents had expressed concerns over how cases had been handled and whether the town’s financial interests were always being protected–they worried that there was conflict by having the same firm that advises the town on action steps also work as the firm that represents the town in litigation cases. Several people raised questions about the high legal costs the town was regularly paying.
Clune described the search process at last night’s meeting: the search committee began its work last spring and issued a request for proposals (RFP) in June. Six firms submitted proposals and the committee interviewed five of them. Within those five firms, there were seven attorneys who the committee considered for the role of town counsel.
The search committee met immediately prior to the BoS to vote on a final recommendation, and their choice of Bloom was almost unanimous–save for Dubow, who was the lone dissenter. He read a statement during both the search committee’s meeting and BoS meeting, saying he thought there were better choices among the candidates considered by the committee:
“It is our job vote for the best individual and the best firm to provide legal services to the town of Wilton. In terms of 1) the quality, the breadth and depth of services offered by each of the respondents to our RFP, and 2) the overall cost to the taxpayers of Wilton. We have spent weeks (even months) meeting about, considering and discussing various choices. For all of us this is a judgment call. Although I believe the motion before us this evening is an acceptable choice, in my mind in my judgement clearly there were better choices available. Therefore I will vote no and hope that the committee’s recommendation and ultimately the board’s choice will serve the town well.”
Dubow did not specify publicly who he preferred for the job.
Bloom will be named to serve as town counsel; he will finish out the current (Town Charter-authorized) two year term which was vacant and ends Nov. 30, 2017. After that, the Board will determine whether or not to reappoint Bloom to the post. Vanderslice was also authorized to enact a retainer agreement with Bloom’s firm.
Clune thanked Bernhard and his associate counsel Pat Sullivan for their years of service to the town. “They have always conducted themselves in a professional, responsible and cost efficient manner with the best interests of Wilton in mind.”
According to the Berchem, Moses and Devlin website, Bloom is a senior partner in the firm who has practiced land use and municipal law for many years. He has been the town attorney for Westport since 1998, New Canaan since 2012, and has served as counsel to Easton and Madison for several years. He has also represented other municipalities, along with numerous applicants and neighborhood associations throughout the state.