Naples tables law firm bids

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

NAPLES — Naples’ elected officials made a motion to continue.

They made a motion to continue looking for a law firm that would best suit the town’s legal needs.

Recently, the Town of Naples put out a bid for legal services. The idea was perhaps to see what is out there and not necessarily to replace its current attorney.

Now, it is evident Naples will part ways with its longtime law firm Jensen Baird Gardner & Henry since that company did not supply a bid for legal services to the town.

Ultimately, the Naples Board of Selectmen decided to table a vote. In the process, the board narrowed its selection down to three out of five.

On Monday, the board agreed it would be best to first schedule representatives from the competing law firms to appear before the board.

However, the date of those presentations is less than a month away since the board is dealing with more pressing matters.

Chairman Jim Grattelo provided in a nutshell what the board considered to be an important checklist for the town’s future legal counsel.

“What we are looking for, based on conversation so far, is: A firm that recognizes that the town is growing, that knows that our ordinances need to be cleaned up, that understand Shoreland Zoning laws. And, we want a firm that recognizes that we are a small town,” Grattelo said.

The board was okay with the idea of contacting at least three of the five law firms. Those are: DrummondWoodsum Attorneys at Law, Skelton Taintor & Abbott, and Pierce Atwood, LLP.

Earlier, Selectman Bob Caron II had nixed Bernstein Shur Sawyer & Nelson from future interviews, saying the Town of Naples needs a smaller law firm that handles smaller towns.

Grattelo said, “I have a problem with Skelton Taintor because of what they cost the town.”

Skelton represented the town in the case American Holdings vs. The Town of Naples. American Holdings owns Sunnyside Village, and the lawsuit was regarding Shoreland Zoning issues.

“Skelton Taintor cost us over $120,000. Someone should have said after the fifth appeal, we are not going to win this case,” Grattelo said. “I would never support that firm based on what happened.”

Earlier in the discussion, Rich Cebra favored Sketlon in that the firm did what the town had asked it to do.

Prior to narrowing down the legal services applicants, Grattelo asked other board members if they would like to schedule Skelton for an interview, adding he planned to ask about the American Holding case.

“Yes,” Selectman Jim Turpin said, “if for no other reason than to hear their answer.”

The vote was unanimous to table awarding the legal counsel job and to set up interviews starting with the Sept. 18 meeting.

At the beginning of the discussion, Grattelo introduced the bidders, saying, “We got five proposals. We did not receive a bid from our current firm, which did not surprise me.”

He said he and Town Manager Ephrem Paraschak reviewed the past bills from Jensen Baird Gardner & Henry.

“To the best of our knowledge, they don’t use paralegals much — our current firm,” Grattelo said. “They do charge for time and mileage. It would cost the town $300 to have our current legal firm come here.”

For special services, most of the law firms charged between $160 and $320 per hour, he said.

“Only one firm doesn’t charge for travel. Based on this spreadsheet, DrummondWoodsum does not” charge for mileage or travel time, he said. DrummondWoodsum charges $160 an hour and $50 for paralegal assistance.

“The reason I am familiar with this firm is it represented Biddeford for 25 years,” said Grattelo who served a mayoral term there.

In the town of Biddeford, the legal counsel has to be reappointed every two years, he said, adding that DrummondWoodsum survived numerous mayors and city councilmen.

“Their expertise is dealing with land use issues. The two men there have both represented towns,” Grattelo said. “We had a couple contentious issues in the Town of Biddeford. They were great about not building up our expectations.”

“I don’t believe they are in it for the money. Well, most lawyers are in it for the money. But, they are going to do what is right for the town,” he said.

“Based on the price structure, on an average year, we would save $5,000 a year. If it’s a big year, we would save $20,000 on legal fees,” he said.

Turpin offered his take on the bids.

“When I went through the list, I was looking for price. These guys jumped out,” Turpin said. “You just reinforced it. It isn’t just price these guys are liable.”

Selectman Cebra countered the argument of going with the lowest bid.

“I don’t think we should base our attorney on price. I want a good attorney not the cheapest guys,” Cebra said.

“I am more familiar with one of them. I thought Skelton Taintor is great,” he said. “A couple of these I would discount because of past experience. I won’t say names.”

“Some of these firms are so big and the Town of Naples is so small that we will get lost in the mix,” he said.

“It is a tough decision. Do we have to make it tonight? I had hoped we would have a few more [choices, such as] some people who are building up their municipal resume,” Cebra said.

Grattelo agreed, “You don’t base your decision on price. I would not have suggested DrummondWoodsum if I didn’t already know them.”

“We do want to have a firm that we would be important to. We saw that with their auditors. We weren’t No. 1 on their list,” he said.

“If you want more time, we can table it,” Grattelo said.

At the point in the discussion, Selectman Caron weighed in.

“When I was going through it, I was looking for ones that represent towns the size of Naples, town with Shoreland Zoning Ordinance issues. I was looking for firms that represented towns that have communities like Naples,” Caron said.

He expressed his disappointment that the bigger firms had sent proposals as opposed to smaller firms better suited for Naples.

Cebra played off that thought.

“If we look at those criteria, the one that stands out is Skelton. They are smaller and the partners would be our primary contact,” Cebra said.

It was pointed out that the legal services contract with the town’s legal counsel is still in place, which gives the board time and the law firms time to put together a presentation.

“If they want the business, they will come,” Cebra said.

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