Bellows Falls to seek legal proposals

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BELLOWS FALLS — Bellows Falls village trustees may be cutting ties with longtime village attorney L. Raymond Massucco.

By a 3-2 vote, the trustees voted Tuesday evening to seek other requests for qualifications and proposals from other attorneys, but said they hoped Massucco would also submit a proposal. Trustee Jonathan Wright had requested the item be put on the agenda, said Village President Deborah Wright.

The two Wrights (who are not related) were joined by Trustee James McAuliffe in asking Village Manager Wendy Harrison to seek other attorneys, with an emphasis on expertise in municipal affairs. Voting against the move were Trustee Stefan Golec and Trustee Gary Lique.

Massucco, who attended the meeting, said he has been village attorney since January 1983. He left immediately after the vote.

Jonathan Wright said he is concerned that the village is getting "complacent." He said it might be time for a new approach. "What are the village's needs for the next five years?" he asked.

It was suggested at the meeting that Massucco had conflicts of interest with residents in the village, particularly over tax sales, since he represents so many people in the village for various legal matters.

Golec defended Massucco, said he was a "homegrown boy," and said he knew much of the municipal history in the village and town. Golec said he suspects that

Massucco gives the village a break on his legal fees.

Harrison said she could put out a request for services and the village could gauge interest from attorneys. She also said the village benefited from its membership with the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, since its service includes legal advice on municipal insurance matters.

McAuliffe said the move to explore another lawyer was not a reflection on Massucco, who is also the new Bellows Falls village moderator.

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"I always complain about expenses," said McAuliffe, saying it was his "common theme." "Can we do it at a better cost? My comments are not about Ray, this is not personal," he said. "It's about running the village."

Jonathan Wright asked that Harrison come up with a list of the topics the village would be tackling in the next three to five years, and then craft a request for legal services. "We can see what interest we do have," said Jonathan Wright. "You pay for what you get," said Golec.

Harrison said that Massucco was "very responsive" to any calls for legal help, and that he had recently added a young attorney to his staff. But, she said, it would be "good to look around."

Resident Paul Reis urged the board to stay with Massucco. "He's a walking encyclopedia," said Reis. "I believe he saves you money."

Harrison said that Massucco referred the case involving Stephen McAllister, the owner of the dilapidated ChemCo. building, to the town attorney because he represented McAllister in another matter. The village, under its unsafe building ordinance, has been trying to get McAllister to do something about the building.

"Ray referred the legal work to Steve Ankuda," she said.

During the meeting, Massucco said he had no involvement with the ChemCo building. "That's the only conflict in 20-25 years," he said.

Harrison said the village currently budgeted $12,000 for the village attorney, but depending on whether there are union contracts that need to be negotiated, the figure goes up and down. She said the village had $5,000 currently budgeted for negotiations and $1,500 for ordinance enforcement, for a total of about $18,500.

The Rockingham Select Board employs the Springfield law firm of Parker & Ankuda for town issues, with Stephen Ankuda handling most of the town legal matters. In addition to his legal work, Massucco runs the popular music festival, Roots On The River, which was held last weekend in Rockingham.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or at 802 254-2311., ext. 154.


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