NORTH ADAMS — Hello, KP Law?

It's the North Adams City Council calling.

Several city councilors expressed a desire for more direct legal representation this week, but city officials are defending a process that has councilors route requests for legal opinions through City Hall.

"That's absolutely unacceptable. It's a violation of our charter and ordinances," said Councilor Jason LaForest at a meeting of the City Council's General Government Committee on Monday.

The city's charter states that "the city solicitor shall, whenever so required by the mayor, the City Council or any officer of the city government who may need the same in the discharge of official duty, furnish them or any of them with his legal opinion, upon any subject touching the duties of their respective offices."

After the retirement of former longtime City Solicitor John B. DeRosa earlier this year, the city contracted with KP Law, which provides legal representation to more than 100 cities and towns in Massachusetts.

Under this new representation, Mayor Thomas Bernard's administration established a process: questions for the city solicitor will be funneled through Bernard or Administrative Officer Michael Canales.

If the administration can't determine an answer on its own, the question will then be forwarded to KP Law for a legal opinion.

"It is inappropriate for someone without a legal degree to determine what constitutes a question requiring an attorney's response," LaForest argued.

City officials defend this process as a way to minimize cost and avoid asking questions that can easily be answered by city staff or personnel at state agencies — instead of an attorney charging by the quarter-hour.

The process applies not only to city board and committees, but internally to department heads, Bernard said.

"How we manage the contract and the cost of these services is to have a single point of contact," Bernard told The Eagle. "It's not a question of not wanting to use the solicitor or constraining access."

Though the city charter specifically names the City Council, it also uses the word "required" — a word Bernard and Canales highlighted.

For example, questions about procurement can often be answered by trained professionals in City Hall, Bernard noted. Thus, according to the administration, a legal opinion would not be "required."

"We are an elected body and I believe that we should be trusted with questions, that are going to be valid, to the solicitor," said Councilor Rebbecca Cohen.

Cohen added that she would include the mayor on a written question to the solicitor for transparency, but "in the end ... asking somebody without a law degree to mitigate my question or tell me whether or not it's valid, it's questionable."

Council President Keith Bona, the longest serving member of the council, said the procedure "is nothing like we've ever had to deal with before." In the next budget cycle, Bona said he would seek to compare the cost of KP Law's legal representation with that of the former city solicitor.

"If it costs us the same as what we'd been paying, we need to go back to what we were," Bona said.

The three-member committee unanimously agreed to recommend, as part of its committee report to the full City Council, that the city provide direct access to the city solicitor and follow the city charter.

Adam Shanks can be reached at, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.