NORTH ADAMS — City Councilors last week settled a yearslong debate about how the city solicitor should be accessed for legal opinions.
The ordinance changes adopted at Tuesday's City Council meeting are aimed at redirecting councilors and other city officials and department leaders to access other forms of free legal advice, like the attorney general's office, when applicable, and urging them to also be more efficient in formulating and directing a succinct question.
The new city rule states: "If a Councilor or Councilors want a legal opinion from the City Solicitor, they must provide a communication on the agenda with an explanation of what they are looking for and what they have done to date to take advantage of freely available information. The Council will then discuss."
Whenever the opinion of the city solicitor is required to be in writing, the question submitted for their consideration must also be in writing, for documentation's sake.
The debate over how the city solicitor should be accessed for legal opinions began in March 2018 when North Adams contracted with KP Law after City Solicitor John B. DeRosa retired. DeRosa had served more than 35 years as chief legal counsel for the municipality.
The KP Law contract came with the start of Mayor Thomas Bernard's administration and initially established a new process that instead of going directly to the city solicitor, questions for the city solicitor were to be channeled first through Bernard or Administrative Officer Michael Canales.
Several councilors at the time balked at the notion and called for unrestricted access, while others argued that having such access meant city officials could spend taxpayer dollars by using billable hours in conversation with the solicitor without any oversight.
"But there are other ways of seeking legal opinion without needing to start the meter on the solicitor," Mayor Thomas Bernard told The Eagle on Friday.
On Tuesday, the City Council also:
— Authorized budgeting for the month of September.
— Supported Council President Paul Hopkins' recommendation to appoint a recent city council candidate to fill a vacancy on the city's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Working Group
— Heard a draft proposal, presented by Office of Community Development project coordinator Zachary Feury, for a short-term rental ordinance, which would apply to things like Airbnb and VRBO rentals
— Postponed actively engaging a North Adams Youth Commission until January.
At 6 p.m. Monday the city's Public Safety Committee will take on a robust agenda of issues, from dealing with reported dangerous dogs on Northern Lights Avenue to potential stop sign placements and sidewalk ordinances.
State primary elections take place on Tuesday, with the voting station open till 8 p.m. Mail-in ballots must also be postmarked by Sept. 1 to be counted.
In the meantime, Mayor Bernard will continue interviewing candidates for the next administrative officer, what the mayor deems a "critical" city position. The application period has closed and no current city employees applied for the role, the mayor said.
Canales, who has been in the role for the past eight years, will begin his new role as Stockbridge town administrator, effective Sept. 14.
Jenn Smith can be reached at email@example.com, at @JennSmith_Ink on Twitter and 413-496-6239.