South Portland council discusses review of legal adviser

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SOUTH PORTLAND — City councilors on Tuesday began discussing the criteria they’ll use to evaluate legal services provided to the city.

The review process came before the board after Councilor Eben Rose alleged last month that Corporation Counsel Sally Daggett lifted wording from a California company’s memorandum that discussed how cities and towns should approach short-term rental ordinances.

Daggett was originally slated for a performance evaluation Oct. 23, but before that can happen the council must adopt the procedure for conducting the review and the standards to be applied. 

Councilors were provided with example evaluation forms from other municipalities, including Brunswick, Portland and cities in California.

The city’s form, with the recommendations from Tuesday night added, will be brought back before the council for a final vote at a later date.

The memo penned by Daggett was taken from materials written by Host Compliance which, according to its website, provides short-term rental monitoring and enforcement solutions to local governments. Daggett’s email did not include attribution for the four sentences Rose said were taken verbatim from Host Compliance.

Daggett has countered that the practice is routine.

Points to be covered in the review include quality of legal advice, clarity of reports, timeliness, and whether fees are competitive and appropriate. Also included are professional and ethical standards. 

Former Councilor Adrian Dowling, who abruptly resigned in September after serving only 10 months of a two-year term, told councilors he felt the review would be helpful to the city, adding it is a common practice.

Dowling said he especially wanted to draw attention to sections of the review that deal with professionalism and the attorney’s relationship to the council. He said a contracted employee should regard all councilors with the same professionalism and not engage in what he called “attacks” on others.

“It’s unfortunate this needs to be written down,” he said. 

Resident Linden Thigpen thanked the council for beginning the process and said it is long overdue.

Resident Georgia Deveres agreed, but said the city needs its own, in-house attorney.

“In the big picture, a city attorney is the way to go,” she said. 

Councilor Claude Morgan said he was comfortable with the form, but said the review should be pushed back because of the tense nature of recent meetings and accusations made about the quality of Daggett’s work.

“It’s an emotional issue,” Morgan said. 

Councilors Kate Lewis and Susan Henderson said they would like to see a self-evaluation form developed, or a peer review. Lewis added she would also want to know what the trend in litigation is, whether cases prevail in court or not. 

Rose said including more anecdotal information in the review, rather than a numerical grading system, would be beneficial. He said he would also like the council to see more detailed accounts and line items of how legal services are billed. 

Mayor Linda Cohen said she has worked with both city attorneys and contracted attorneys, and her bias has always been toward having an in-house attorney.

She cautioned that such a position can become political, with the staff lawyer acting like another councilor. Cohen also said the city also benefits with a corporation counsel, because the contract is with an entire law firm. 

Juliette Laaka can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or at jlaaka@theforecaster.net. 

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