The so-called Urbelis report, kept secret under the protection of attorney-client privilege for nearly three years, saw the light of day for the first time on Thursday.
The report was commissioned in 2009 by the then-Hamilton Board of Selectmen to examine the actions of Town Counsel Donna Brewer as it related to the problems the town was having with the police department at the time.
And on Thursday, Brewer herself said she had seen the report for the first time that day. Late Thursday afternoon she said she had not had a chance to read the full 40-page report and did not have any comment in response to the report.
“I was only given it today,” she said.
A complete copy of the report is attached to this story as a PDF.
Thomas Urbelis, a Boston attorney who serves as town counsel in Andover and North Andover, was brought in to evaluate Brewer’s actions as the town was embroiled in a controversy involving the police department.
The board’s decision in 2009 to keep it secret was determined to be allowable – Urbelis was hired to perform legal services for the town and state law allows the document to be protected under attorney-client privilege in the case of an ongoing lawsuit.
“The board at the time, for whatever reason, said it would be protected by attorney-client privilege,” Town Manager Michael Lombardo said on Thursday.
The case involved former Police Officer Michael Marchand who had sued the town, alleging and prevented him from working. He went on paid leave and later resigned in 2010.
The case . It was paid by the town’s insurance company, Massachusetts Interlocal Insurance Association.
The Urbelis report remained one of the only documents yet to be released related to the issues that surrounded the in 2006-2008. Executive session minutes from Hamilton Board of Selectmen meetings during the past few years, where the Marchand case was discussed as it was ongoing, will also be released in the coming weeks, according to Lombardo. His assistant is going through all of the Board of Selectmen’s unreleased executive session minutes, he said.
“I expect it to be released in the next few weeks,” he said.
The Board of Selectmen voted to release the Urbelis report when it met on May 21 and it was first made public on Thursday.
“They all felt it should be made available to the public,” Lombardo said.
The total cost to complete the report was not immediately available on Thursday.
The report is critical of Brewer for, among other reasons, bringing concerns about Marchand to the Board of Selectmen in 2007 during executive sessions that were invoked because the board said it was discussing potential litigation, when there was no evidence that litigation was imminent, as defined by the law.
Urbelis said Brewer should have know the issues did not qualify to be brought to the board, both because she was the presenting the issues to the board herself and because as the board's legal counsel she is the one charged with advising the board about proper use of executive session.
It is also critical of Brewer for not bringing complaints about Marchand – brought to her by Officer Karen Wallace - to the board until four months after she received it.
And Urbelis also found fault with the board itself, which entered executive session multiple times for what it said was the threat of litigation, where Urbelis found that there was no real threat that a lawsuit would be filed about the issues that were being discussed.
On Thursday, Lombardo said he stands by Brewer as town counsel and defended the decision to reject Brewer’s request to not be reappointed as town counsel two years ago and instead keep her on as the town’s attorney.
“With all the transition and charges that we continue to work through, I thought it would be disruptive to build a relationship with a new town counsel,” he said.
Despite Lombardo’s opinion, he said there has not been a final decision on whether to possibly bid out legal services. And he said some members of the Board of Selectmen want to discuss how the board handles its legal services.
“That’s a discussion that’s going to be coming very soon,” he said.
But nothing in the Urbelis report, Lombardo said, showed that Brewer acted as a ”rogue agent” during the time in question.
“There’s no smoking gun I could really point to,” Lombardo said.
Brewer, for her part, said she hopes to continue serving as the town’s attorney. She is appointed annually by the Town Manager with a confirmation vote by the Board of Selectmen.
“I’m willing, able and happy to keep serving the town,” said Brewer, who lives in Hamilton. “I enjoy the work and I will serve as long as the town wants me.”
Lombardo said Brewer is paid through a retainer agreement that covers "the bulk of the work that she does for us.”
Brewer’s rate is “very reasonable” and the town would pay much more if Brewer charged for everything she did, Lombardo said.
Current Board of Selectmen Chairman Jennifer Scuteri, who had just been elected when the report was compiled, said she had no comment and that Selectmen had voted to have Lombardo speak for the board.