Groton officials elect not to change attorneys

Groton - Groton has used the same law firm for 30 years, and the newly elected town councilors tried this week to have that service put out to bid.

They lost. The council voted 5-4 on Tuesday to reappoint Eileen Duggan as town attorney, with help from other lawyers from Suisman, Shapiro, Wool, Brennan, Gray & Greenberg P.C. The firm has had the appointment since December 1983, according to the town clerk.

"'I really think it's undemocratic," Councilor Genevieve Cerf said. "We should at least give the other law firms a chance to state their case." She and councilors Rich Moravsik, Joe de la Cruz and Bob Frink voted against the reappointment.

At issue is the town's practice of hiring professional services without going out to bid in all cases.

Moravsik said other towns change their attorneys regularly, and the continuous hiring of Suisman Shapiro is "too long of a ride."

"It's not transparent," he said.

But purchasing agent John Piacenza said Wednesday a change is not required. The town's purchasing manual, adopted by council in 2009, requires the town seek bids for purchases of more than $15,000, but exempts "professional services," including legal services. As a practical matter, Piacenza said it depends on the situation; some services are put out to bid while others are not.

"You don't necessarily want to go with the lower bidder," he said. "You're looking for value and competence."

Councilor Bruce Flax said Suisman Shapiro has served the town well. He said he's "never had a complaint, never had someone say they were charging too much, never had someone say they were doing anything inappropriate."

But other councilors said just because someone does a good job doesn't mean you don't explore options.

"We're not suggesting throwing anybody out," Frink said. "This is just a suggestion to see who the best fit is."

Councilors said they looked at other law firms about 10 years ago, but Piacenza said no formal request for proposals was issued.

d.straszheim@theday.com

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