Richmond Town Council Reappoints Solicitor
RICHMOND — The Town Council voted unanimously Tuesday to reappoint Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth to a one-year term. The action came after the Council haddeadlocked on the reappointment at its Jan. 4 meeting and after Town Council President Nell Carpenter tried unsuccessfully to have the Council vote to advertise the position.
Ellsworth and Town Solicitor Michael L. Cozzolino have represented the town since 2005. Ellsworth provides legal advice to the Town Council, the Town Administrator, town departments, and town boards and commissions. Cozzolino primarily handles criminal prosecutions and code enforcement. Under the Home Rule Charter, town solicitors serve one-year terms ending on Jan. 31.
Only four members were present at the Jan. 4 Town Council meeting. Council member Rich Nassaney was absent. At that meeting, the Council voted unanimously to reappoint Cozzolino but Carpenter and Council member Lauren Cacciola voted against Ellsworth's reappointment. Council Vice President Jim Palmisciano and Council member Ronald Newman voted in favor of reappointment.
Carpenter subsequently scheduled a special Town Council meeting for Wednesday, Jan. 12. The only item on the agenda was "Discussion and Consideration Regarding Soliciting Proposals for Town Solicitor for the Town of Richmond," including "Establish Qualifications/Review Criteria," "Determine Advertisement Scope," and "Determine Potential Contract Terms." The special meeting did not take place because Carpenter and Cacciola were the only Council members who attended.
Although the purpose of the meeting was described as a discussion on how to go about hiring a new solicitor, a form titled “Town Solicitor Evaluation Form – Annual Performance Evaluation Criteria,” drafted by Palmisciano, was attached to the agenda. It was not clear how criteria for evaluating the performance of an existing solicitor would be relevant to a search for a new solicitor.
The agenda for the Council's regular meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 18 included a request by Councilman Nassaney for reappointment of Ellsworth as Solicitor. Carpenter scheduled a special meeting to take place on Jan. 18 one half hour before the regular Town Council meeting. The agenda was the same as for the special meeting on Jan. 12. On Jan. 18, all five Council members attended the special meeting.
Although the agenda for the special meeting was the same as the one for the previous special meeting, the Council voted to adopt the performance review criteria and apply it prospectively to solicitors seeking reappointment in 2023. Palmisciano said he thought the review procedure should apply to all appointed solicitors because it was important to establish a standard approach to evaluating performance. Carpenter agreed.
The Council also voted to ask Town Administrator Karen Pinch to draft town solicitor employment contracts that would apply to the solicitors serving the terms ending on Jan. 31, 2023. Carpenter, who made the motion, said the contracts should include not only the Charter qualifications for the position and the performance review suggested by Palmisciano, but also "defined expectation, documentation of municipal activity, including hours of service," and "probationary period as described in the Code of Ordinances." Solicitors in Richmond are independent contractors, not employees, so it is not clear how the conditions and requirements for employees would be applied to the solicitors.
The motion to request solicitor contracts passed on a four-to-one vote. Council member Nassaney voted no. After the motion passed, Council member Cacciola moved to advertise the solicitor's position, but her motion did not receive a second.
At the regular Town Council meeting, Ellsworth was reappointed for a one-year term by a unanimous vote. Before the vote took place, Cacciola asked, “So, we are requesting that we approve the solicitor. Maybe I’m speaking out of turn. Is the terms the same, because I know we just had that meeting, per se.” “Correct,” Carpenter responded. “It needs to reflect what action the council has taken.”
Town Administrator Karen Pinch will conduct a performance evaluation of both solicitors at this calendar year. If they seek to retain their positions, the decision whether to reappoint them will be up to the Town Council elected in November 2022.
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