Fredonia is taking another look at using its out-of-town law firm.
Webster Szanyi acts as village attorney and offered a breakdown of its costs and services for Monday’s Board of Trustees meeting. The report was spurred by a recent OBSERVER article that showed the firm made more than triple the money last year than previous attorney, Dunkirk-based Dan Gard, did in 2020.
Mayor Douglas Essek brought up the breakdown Monday and said, “There is plenty of different things that were in addition to regular business for the year. Just so the public knows, we had four collective bargaining agreements that were negotiated this year, we had three water and sewer agreements that were also negotiated this year, we had several employee/personnel issues that had to be taken care of this year.”
Essek added, “Just so everybody knows, in the past when we did have a village attorney, the village attorney did not do the collective bargaining agreement negotiations. That was an additional fee that had to be charged to another attorney to take care of.”
Trustee Jon Espersen wanted to know, excluding negotiations and personnel issues, what the village paid Webster Szanyi. He figured it was about $86,000, “which seemed to be far and away more than what was paid to a local attorney.”
Espersen added, “I’m not sure why it’s financially a good idea to retain them… I’m not sure if they’re doing above and beyond what a local attorney can do.
“To be totally transparent, I let them know that we would be discussing the issue today, and I believe that’s why we got that breakdown, because Melanie (Beardsley) wanted that to happen. I didn’t want this discussion to come at them from out of the blue so I let her know. But I think, my own personal feeling is, we should advertise to find a local attorney.”
Beardsley and Charles Roberts handle Fredonia business for Webster Szanyi. Roberts attended Monday’s meeting.
Trustees James Lynden and Michelle Twichell also expressed interest in looking for a local attorney. Trustee Nicole Siracuse called for a resolution authorizing the village to advertise for the attorney.
“Just to be clear, that is no offense to me personally, and we are happy to provide the board with any information and details about exactly what we did last year and how that may compare,” Roberts said.
He said the previous OBSERVER article was “comparing apples to oranges” and added, “there were a number of items that we were asked to research that were the result of differing opinions among the board, I guess I’d put it that way, and people from outside the board that were raising legal questions about what the board was doing.”
“I let Melanie know that this is not a reflection of on our satisfaction with the work that was performed. It was a financial decision, that’s the way I came at it,” Espersen said.
Essek asked Roberts if renegotiating his firm’s hourly rates was an option. The lawyer said it was.
“I can add, from my personal observations, I can venture that the legal expenses are going to be less already this year, just based on my viewing of the meetings and how you all are operating, it appears to be a pretty efficient manner,” Roberts said.
Essek and the trustees agreed to consider retaining Webster Szanyi’s services, if it provides a list of revised rates.
“It is my belief, though, that a salaried position will be far more advantageous for the village,” Lynden said. He said that many of the legal discussions billed last year would have been covered under a salary.