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Selectmen Chairman Says Town Counsel Decision Does Not Rest With Board

As town residents push the Board of Selectmen to address the issue of whether to reappoint town counsel Donna Brewer, the town manager and chairman of the Board of Selectmen says state law gives the town manager total control to name the town attorney.

The power to appoint the town counsel sits solely with Town Manager Michael Lombardo.

And that’s why the Board of Selectmen, after , is not taking up the topic of whether Donna Brewer should continue as town counsel, according to Board Chairman David Neill.

She is eligible for reappointment yearly on July 1 and Lombardo decided to keep her on board.

Neill said typically he prefers to addresses issues head-on at Board of Selectmen meetings.

“With this, we don’t have the authority to make the decision,” Neill said in comments following Monday night’s meeting.

Neill, and immediately named chairman, was also a selectman in the 1990s when Brewer first became town attorney. He pointed to a section of the “Special Act” that established Hamilton’s Town Manager form of government in 2009 that allows the town manager to appoint all town “officers.” Others, such as department heads, can undergo the review the Board of Selectmen. But the hiring and firing of "officers" rest soley with the town manager.

The Special Act removed the hiring of the town counsel from the “political arena,” Neill said.

For the second week in a row on Monday night, residents brought their concerns about Brewer to the board. This time, Rock Maple Avenue resident Jack Lawrence told the board that he had hoped to see the topic of Brewer’s reappointment on the board’s agenda.

“I don’t see it this evening and I think it is really something that needs to be discussed,” Lawrence said.

Later, Lawrence said several town reports, , were “scathing” and, among other issues, said that Brewer improperly advised two different Boards of Selectmen about whether it could meet in executive session, Lawrence said.

“All this should be taken into account,” he said, to applause from some in the crowd.

Neither Lombardo, Neill or any members of the Board of Selectmen directly addressed Lawrence’s questions during the meeting. Neill made his comments in an interview following the meeting.

At its peak, there were about 20 residents in the audience at Monday night’s Board of Selectmen meeting at . Many of them left not long after the public comment period when Lawrence spoke.

Lombardo said he has extended an offer to any board members or member of the public to share “insights” with him about his decision to reappoint Brewer as town counsel – the attorney that works for the town.

“They want it to play out here,” Lombardo said, referring to the Memorial Room in Town Hall where the Board of Selectmen meet. “I am not interested in politicizing it.”

Neill said board members have spoken individually with Lombardo to tell him their feelings about whether Brewer should be reappointed.

“He knows where we all stand individually,” Neill said.

Jay Burnham July 10, 2012 at 11:10 AM
It appears as though Board Chairman Neill and Town Manager Lombardo, unwilling to address serious citizen's concerns in a public meeting, were willing to discuss the issue once the cameras were turned off and everyone had left. QUOTE: "The Special Act removed the hiring of the town counsel from the 'political arena',” Neill said. “They want it to play out here,” Lombardo said, referring to the Memorial Room in Town Hall where the Board of Selectmen meet. “I am not interested in politicizing it.” On the contrary…The Board of Selectmen and Town Manager have now placed the issue directly into the political arena by steadfastly refusing to allow open and public discussion and debate, choosing instead to make decisions the "old fashioned way"…in closed back rooms tantamount to the closed Executive Sessions previously improperly sanctioned by current Town Counsel Brewer. Can anyone remember a time when an issue of this magnitude was refused open public review? I can…when officer Mike Marchand was refused the right to be allowed to speak on his own behalf. Compliments of Town Counsel Donna Brewer and her abuse of Executive Session meetings and the Open Meeting Law. This time, however, the failure lies with the Town Manager and apparently also a Board of Selectmen that appear ineffectual in properly supervising him or listening to the concerns of the community.
Margo Killoran July 10, 2012 at 11:53 AM
Our new chair seems to be missing the point; it irrevelant in whose power it is to appoint Ms. Brewer. The point is that she should not have been reappointed and it needs to be rectified. The simplest way would be for Ms. Brewer to resign; why she wants to stay on under such lack of confidence is a mystery to me. Short of that, the decision should be reconsidered, regardless of whose "power" it is to do so.
Ron Powell July 10, 2012 at 01:35 PM
Well, I'm just an out-of-towner passing through here, and I have only a glancing knowledge of Hamilton town government and church polity, but I wonder .... did Donna Brewer participate in any way in writing the language for the Special Act? I suspect she did -- she was Town Counsel at the time the Act was written.
LSMoulton July 10, 2012 at 01:46 PM
Our Board must understand that people are asking that the Donna Brewer situation be put to rest. One would think that the reports written would secure this decision. We are done hearing and reading about the events of the past and ask for a good future with new people in the lead roles in town. Like Jay I take great offense to comments that are pointed against voters who come out to voice concerns about the town. Mike's comment, “They want it to play out here", is insulting and detrimental to the form of town hall government we have. David claims he would like to hear issues "head-on" at Board of Selectmen meetings but that is untrue as was demonstrated last night. There are many residents that are genuinely unhappy and upset with the events of Monday nights meeting. There is a lack of transparency making a return to Hamilton politics with the feeling of a behind closed door form of government. I expect significant ramifications to this at next Monday's meeting.
Robert Gates (Editor) July 10, 2012 at 03:46 PM
A complete copy of the Special Act is now attached to this story as a PDF.
Leigh M Keyser July 10, 2012 at 03:57 PM
is there any proof that the office of town counsel is listed as"town official" or is it lised as a town employee hired by the town to handle legal town business. If this the case, its posible that as a town employee with out the title of town offical, thatthe board of selectmen have the right to hire and fire said employee?
Robert Foringer July 10, 2012 at 04:58 PM
Lombardo 'The Little General"...What was reason he left Iowa and his previous Position?
Robert Foringer July 10, 2012 at 05:02 PM
The Dailey Iowian.......google it
Eileen DeAngelis July 10, 2012 at 05:07 PM
Looks like "little Caesar" is in charge...no accountability to the taxpayers.So much for "gvernment of,by and for the people"! One would think Ms Brewer might be shamed into doing what's right?,since the in charge guy can't see this.
Bill Bowler July 10, 2012 at 07:29 PM
The Special Act was entirely the work of the Government Study Committee and was drafted by Bill Shields, former Town Counsel. Donna Brewer had no part in its drafting.
Concerned July 10, 2012 at 09:22 PM
Referring to Mr. Lombardo as "Little General" and Little Caesar" is incredibly inappropriate. He has done a fine job since he took the position. Now he has made a decision he feels is best for the town and you people resort to name calling. The problem with some in Hamilton is they are not used to hearing the word "No". Eileen, what exactly are you insinuating with your "no accountability" comment? Or you Robert with your questions of why he left Iowa? Stick to the issues and don't make it personal. He made a decision which he was well within his rights to make. All of his decisions are not going to be popular with everyone. Stick to your guns Mr. Lombardo and ignore the insults from the small minded and short sighted.
Robert Foringer July 10, 2012 at 09:45 PM
you need to ask around town I am sure you will hear that name pop up Nothing personal I think the FACTS of Ms Brewer conduct speak for themsevles as well the reports that were given for review.
Eileen DeAngelis July 10, 2012 at 10:21 PM
Nice to know "concerned" is "large minded" and "far sighted"! Thanks for slamming those of us who also are CONCERNED! Mike can make the decision...that's not the argument! We/the people are entitled to our opinions..and to the manager listening to our concerns...as Robert said...check the report on this issue! And we are entitled to know..if Mike left Iowa under similar circumstances...acting as Caesar/General.
Jay Burnham July 10, 2012 at 11:01 PM
Eileen.......Actually, it is debatable whether or not the Town Manager, as Michael Lombardo insists, CAN make the decision whether or not to hire the Town Counsel. Take a look at The Town of Hamilton By-Laws, Chapter VII, Section 3, which I have uploaded to this page. Of course, Mr. Lombardo disputes this section of the by-laws, claiming that the Special Act establishing the position of Town Manager (which is unclear, at best) supercedes Town Bylaw. However...the by-law postdates that special act and was approved by the AG's office. The AG's office was aware of the special act and didn't have a problem with this by-law. But as Margo has so appropriately pointed out above, WHO CARES who has the power to appoint the town counsel? The question remains WHY, after all she has done as exposed within the Urbelis Report, does the town manager obstinately insist upon retaining Ms. Brewer as town counsel. It makes absolutely no sense and calls into question his decision making process...and to some extent justifies Robert Foringer's reference to Lombardo's previous dismissal at Iowa City after only 11 months as City Manager. Sorry, Michael, but you have brought this upon yourself.....
Bennet July 10, 2012 at 11:46 PM
Name calling aside, isn't it is important to listen to the findings of anyone you retain for non bias advice? The town retained attorney Urbelis to review the facts and give non biased opinions but couldn't act on the information because of ramifications the information would have had on an ongoing legal battle. Now the legal battle is over and the town still isn't acting on the information. It isn't important WHO can act on information but is important that the information is acted on. The mistakes being made by the town manager and the Selectmen is upsetting as is their lack of interest in resident opinion on this subject. I urge the people of the town to demand more respect from their representatives and never allow public opinions to be ignored as it was on Monday night. The combination of information provided by Urbelis and the public outrage towards Brewer's past performance should be catalyst enough for positive change.
richard boroff July 11, 2012 at 12:23 AM
It says bluntly, the town manager anually appoints, the selectmen confirm. Therefore when the year is up the town manager can appoint someone new, and the selectmen can confirm. It does not say who can fire, but logic would say the town manager can fire, and the selectmen can confirm. In any case, it does not say the selectmen can initiate a process to hire or fire. End result, if she does not get fired, then the manager could renew her contract at the end of the year, and if the selectmen wish, they could refuse to confirm. In that case the manager would have to make another selection. When is her contract up? If it is in a few weeks, lets not get our undies all twisted in knots but let the responsible people do their jobs. If then she does not get released, then---. Plus, for all you know, he may be doing a search right now for a replacement, so let him do his job. A problem some people have is they want results now, without letting due process occur. Sometimes it is better not to be discussing in public what you are doing because it will upset the apple cart and the negotiations. Be good Richard Boroff
Jay Burnham July 11, 2012 at 12:55 AM
Richard...I can assure you that the town manager is NOT "doing a search right now for a replacement". Why would you even hint at such a thing without so much as a shred of evidence? And the reason some people "want results now" is because they have already WAITED THREE YEARS for the secretly held and formerly confidential Urbelis Report to be made public and verify unconditionally the town counsel's blatantly inappropriate, unprofessional and culpable demeanor. The waiting period needs to come to an end, and along with it the end of an era of embarrassment for our community. The trouble is...the responsible people, as you call them, are acting irresponsibly and unreasonably.
Ron Powell July 11, 2012 at 03:07 AM
Concerned, I don't doubt your sincerity, but take a step back for a moment and take a look at what you just wrote. According to you, it is incredibly inappropriate to name call, but you ended by calling those you disagree with "small minded" and "short sighted." You wrote that Robert should stick to the issues and not make it personal, but then you wrote, "The problem with some in Hamilton is they are not used to hearing the word 'No.'" Does that not strike you as a personal comment? Mr. Lombardo seems like a fine Town Manager and a decent man. Clearly, as I read the Special Act, it is in his power to appoint Town Counsel, and it is in the Board's power to confirm. I happen to think that that it is an appropriate balance of power, and I agree with you that he is well within his rights to not only appoint Donna Brewer, but he is also within his rights to not have to explain why he appointed her. However, in sticking to one's guns, one has to be careful not to shoot oneself in the foot. Of all of the reasons for you to support an appointment or policy, doing so because you oppose a group of residents who are against it is among the worst. In the end, it is your Town Counsel who is being appointed, and it seems to me that a civil and open dialog would be beneficial to all residents, including you. I wish you and your Town good luck.
Ron Powell July 11, 2012 at 03:21 AM
I actually like the CEO Town Manager model, where the Town Manager can appoint or remove the Town Counsel. The language of the Special Act is peculiar, because it gives the Town Manager the power to appoint all town officers, but it does not give him power to oversee the Town Counsel. It is not clear who the Town Counsel works for or reports to. Equally unclear, as you wrote, is who has the power to remove a town officer, though common sense dictates that the Town Manager who has been given the power to appoint implicitly has the power to remove. I thought that the term of all officers except Selectmen, began on July 1 -- when the budget year begins.
chris a July 11, 2012 at 03:34 AM
true ron it began july 1 fiscal year as they put it
Ron Powell July 11, 2012 at 03:36 AM
Your Town paid three consultants more than $50,000 over a twelve-month period, and all three of them arrived at the same conclusion -- that Donna Brewer acted outside her authority, that her actions created liability for the Town as well as herself, and that the Town needed to follow up on what to do regarding her actions. Your Town Manager decided that the appropriate action is to do nothing, because, as he has stated (paraphrasing), Brewer provides her services at a great value to the Town of Hamilton. Of course, the value argument does have its limits, and Hamilton must balance the budget savings it may realize by appointing Brewer with the lasting fallout from the police department scandals and the way its local town government, under the advisement of Brewer, handled them. Just last month, Lawyer's Weekly prominently featured the Town of Hamilton on page one, and described the Marchand case as painting "a grim picture of small-town politics and a department rife with back-stabbing."
Jim Smith July 11, 2012 at 04:12 AM
I would take more stock in what Officer Robert Nyland had to say than Mike Marchand in my opinion. I believe that Officer Robert Nyland had a much bigger heart and love for the town of Hamilton. As far as Mike Marchand, he better go see the Wizard of OZ. I don't think anyone ever really knew Mike Marchand, there was another side, few saw, in my opinion. Obviously Blodgett dropped the ball and did not dig deep enough on many Hamilton Police Department issues. Or he did not care to, maybe a little afraid to what he may have found, in my opinion.
Ron Powell July 11, 2012 at 04:38 AM
I think that it is fair and appropriate to look at the track record of a leader. I do not understand why this is even a contentious issue. Mike Lombardo, on his LinkedIn profile, describes himself as having an "accomplished career combining innovative problem-solving with high-powered general and fiscal management skills. Results-oriented professional with strong multi-tasking and service skills, proven track record for improving operational efficiency. Excellent consensus-building and negotiation skills." Well, OK, fair enough then. But the one thing that stands out is that he has never held a leadership position for more than three years and ten months, and that only two people have recommended him (one of them is Bill Bowler). It appears that he has stirred up controversy and ruffled feathers everywhere he has managed in municipal government. That does not necessarily indicate a character flaw-- sometimes you need to stir up controversy and ruffle feathers. But it is a little red flag, and it is always fair to consider why the feathers were ruffled.
Margo Killoran July 11, 2012 at 12:28 PM
Budget is important and there has been a LOUD outcry to keep taxes in check, so I understand the argument that Brewer is "affordable" and does a lot of pro bono work... but (1) how do we know that there is no one else who would also be willing to do this unless we bid it out, and (2) how "affordable" is free advice when it ends up costing you hundreds of thousands of dollars or more? People make mistakes and some argue that she did what she had to do at the time. But the true mark of character and good leadership is those who do what is right and in the best interest of the town despite what is happening around them. We need more people running the town with this strength of character. Yes, it will mean that some people will be told "no" who aren't used to hearing it, but it also means that others will be told "yes" when they arenn't used to hearing it either!
Jay Burnham July 11, 2012 at 02:14 PM
Margo...A very bright friend of mine said today that "INCOMPETENCE IS NOT INEXPENSIVE". How true. Sounds like a possible heading for a blog article on this issue.
Ron Powell July 11, 2012 at 03:52 PM
Here is the concern that I would have if I were a Hamilton resident: a town employee approached the Board of Selectmen in November 2007 to report a widespread EMT training scandal in the police department, and the Board responded by hiring a consultant to investigate whether the town employee violated any criminal laws or department procedures. That consultant was Gerald Hayes, and his report exonerated the town employee of major wrongdoing while singling out Town Counsel specifically for major ethical violations. And the report ended by recommending more followup regarding Town Counsel's actions and also a thorough investigation into the EMT records scandal. Had the Board heeded the warning from the town employee instead of remaining headstrong, the Town would still have an ambulance operation and much embarrassment would have been avoided. Defiance for the sake of defiance hasn't worked. It's possible to be too clever by half and wind up with a decision that is too foolish by three-quarters. What if a town employee or resident approaches the town manager with details of another town scandal? Will he ignore it or respectfully deny any discussion of it? And what kind of advice will Town Counsel provide? Will it be different than the advice provided last time, or will the same mistakes be made? Everyone deserves a second chance -- heck, I am now on my fourth or fifth chance myself, but it's important to show that you've learned from your past mistakes.
Robert Foringer July 11, 2012 at 04:23 PM
Well said Ron Powell always informative [post]. With that said I just find it amazing Lombardo`s lack of people skills considering everything this town has been through. Thank God QE, Aron Burr, Jay Burnham, will step out and not follow the rest of the cows to the water...per say
SgtT July 11, 2012 at 04:59 PM
Are you a cop Jim and if so did you know Mike or Bobbie as a coworker? Plenty of police officers like me in this area knew both from their time with the sheriff and on the other police departments they both worked at. Both were liked by their peers for different reasons. Bobbie lost points during difficult times while Mike kept his integrity and honor until the end as proven by the reports written about him that back his story. Bobbie was a good police officer also but he was more of a social worker than a cop, not doing well under pressure. Bob was running the falsified ambulance training that Mike reported so Bobbie lovers disliked Mike for exposing that. Such a shame because both were good for Hamilton and are missed.
Jim July 15, 2012 at 05:44 PM
You make no sense Anne and seem to be a fruitcake.
my2cents July 27, 2012 at 03:44 PM
The community has had enough with the political adjendas and should up and show the distrust and anger towards people who are trying to prevent a recovery from the past years of poor management and acts by town workers. I believe that the failure to fire Donna Brewer and the act of promoting officer Karen Wallace are two more poor choices made by this town. Termination of town councel is justified based on the Urbelis report. I am unsure if this will be the end result because Hamilton has in the past 5 years made some incredibly stupid and costly mistakes. Still I think that the new report along with all the other reports concerning her actions in the Marchand affair show beyond a shadow of a doubt that she needs to go. I am further troubled by the promotion to the rank of sergeant of officer Karen Wallace. In all of the reports done into the Marchand affair it is obvious that Wallace's actions were malicious and dishonorable so when I learned that she had been promoted to sergeant this past month I was disapointed in the police department once again and felt unhappy that her poor behavior was rewarded with advancement. It is another example of poor management by Hamilton town government.

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