WESTERLY — In a reversal of course, the School Department will request letters of interest from lawyers seeking to be hired to provide legal services to the School Committee.
Committee Chairwoman Diane Chiaradio Bowdy initially asked for a motion at the committee’s meeting on Wednesday to reappoint Westerly lawyers William Nardone and Jon Lallo, who have represented the committee for the last two years and many times previously.
But Mary Adams, who was elected to her first term in November, asked for additional information. She noted that the committee had not been presented with a proposed contract.
“I thought we were going to talk about the process for hiring an attorney. I have had some interactions with Mr. Nardone that have been nothing but positive ... but I thought we were going to have a discussion about the process,” Adams said.
Committee member Christine Cooke echoed Adams’ remarks, saying the committee had previously reviewed applications. “This has nothing to do with his performance at all, this is about process,” she said.
Committee member Christine Piezzo pointed out that the committee had chosen Nardone for the first time two years ago. The appointment had previously been made by the Town Council. “It probably makes sense to put a process in place,” Piezzo said.
Chiaradio Bowdy said she had asked the committee to reappoint Nardone because her sense was that while other lawyers had applied for the position in 2017, they did not want to drive to Westerly to attend School Committee meetings, one of the requirements of the job.
On a retainer basis the position involves providing legal advice, as needed, to the committee and superintendent, policy review, and handling of low-level labor grievances. Nardone and Lallo also handle labor negotiations, arbitration, and mediation, work that is outside the scope of the retainer, at a reduced hourly rate.
Under the current terms, Nardone and Lallo are paid $37,440 per year for work under the retainer. They charge a discounted rate of $195 per hour for work that is outside the scope of the retainer.
Nardone said he would provide the committee with a proposed letter of engagement outlining the scope of services and a timeline. “There’s never been a contract per se, but we have had engagement letters, which is more appropriate and common in these types of situations,” he said.
By adopting a policy, Adams said, the School Committee would set a good example. “If we’re going to expect the district to have certain practices in place and a process for hiring people we ought to model that behavior here,” she said.
The committee decided to direct Superintendent of Schools Mark Garceau to announce that it was seeking letters from lawyers interested in the work.