The Pittsfield City Council's vote to approve the hiring of a law firm to serve as counsel to the city on an interim basis was a wise one, but there are questions to be addressed in that interim.
Donovan & O'Connor will step in for six months to fill the role of city solicitor while evaluating the position of city solicitor. It is awkward, but new Mayor Linda Tyer wants to explore ways of better serving the legal needs of the city at perhaps a reduction in cost.
Councilor at large Melissa Mazzeo and Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi argued at Tuesday night's City Council meeting that the mayor's proposal violates the city charter by failing to designate a solicitor. Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell proposed a compromise in which Rich Dohoney of Donovan & O'Connor, who is the lead attorney under the firm's contract with Pittsfield, would essentially be named temporary solicitor while the process went forward. This idea did not gain traction with the City Council and it is clear that the mayor is reluctant to be tied to a position of city solicitor.
The problem with any city charter, regardless of how well-written, is that it cannot anticipate every eventuality. In this case, if the city is bound to a solicitor it prevents the mayor from exploring options that could benefit Pittsfield.
Those options should be explored, and with the City Council's vote they can be. The necessity or lack of necessity for a city solicitor position has to be addressed, as do concerns expressed by Councilors Mazzeo and Morandi that councilors and other officials would have less access to legal services under this arrangement than they have had with a solicitor. Access to a respected and experienced law firm, however, could definitely pay real dividends to the city.