Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
September legal work on Vernon zoning regs cost $6,000

By Suzanne Carlson
Journal Inquirer
Published: Wednesday, October 19, 2011 12:24 PM EDT

VERNON — The Manchester law firm hired by Mayor Jason L. McCoy to “review and re-draft” the town zoning regulations has billed the town in excess of $6,000 for work completed through Sept. 30.

But according to the town charter, any purchase of more than $5,000 requires three price quotations.

McCoy, a Republican, signed a letter of engagement with the firm of Blackwell, Davis, and Spadaccini on Sept. 4 — without seeking the required price quotations — and a month later on Oct. 5 received a bill for $6,060, according to documents obtained by the Journal Inquirer on Tuesday after a freedom-of-information request.

Town Planner Leonard K. Tundermann told the Planning and Zoning Commission on Aug. 18 of McCoy’s intention to hire the firm to redraft zoning laws. He said at the time that McCoy expected to have a first draft to town staff by Aug. 24, have a second draft for the commission by Sept. 15, and have a final version by Oct. 20.

The engagement letter lists a Sept. 12 deadline for the initial draft, and the PZC has received no updates thus far. The commission is scheduled to meet Thursday at 7 p.m. in Town Hall, and a “dialog with Mayor Jason McCoy” is on the agenda.

The engagement letter contains several handwritten modifications made by McCoy. For example, the original contract said a draft of the regulations would be provided to Tundermann, but McCoy crossed out his name and substituted, “to town administration.”

He crossed out a sentence stating the firm would bill the town off a $2,500 retainer, and another line was crossed out to the point of being illegible.

McCoy also added the task of re-drafting the regulations to fit the plan of conservation and development, “specifically with regard to form-based zoning, Rockville section of town.”

Form-based zoning is a means of regulating development with an emphasis on achieving a multi-use urban environment, rather than the conventional Euclidian zoning, which segregates different uses such as housing, retail, and industry.

Lawyer Justin R. Clark is billing the town $200 an hour for his services, and his invoice lists seven dates between Sept. 5 and Sept. 30 on which he worked on the regulations for a total of 30.3 hours.

The three town attorneys are paid $150 per hour.

The town charter requires that any purchase of between $5,000 and $10,000 have at least three price quotations. The Town Council has not reviewed the engagement letter publicly or approved a waiver.

Purchases of more than $10,000 require at least three sealed bids.

Town Administrator John D. Ward said Tuesday that he was unsure “where in the pipeline” payment was for the project, and indicated that the Oct. 5 invoice may not be the final bill.

The engagement letter does not list a termination date for services and the invoice from Clark says the billing statement is for work rendered “as of Sept. 30.”

The town planner’s budget includes a $20,000 account to “update codes and regulations” from which Clark is being paid.

When the PZC first heard of McCoy’s plan, some members said they were surprised because there had been a consensus to finish work on the 10-year plan of conservation and development before updating the zoning regulations.

But Town Attorney and Republican Town Chairman Harold Cummings said critics are overreacting about a “routine process.”

When asked why he or the other town attorneys were not doing the work, Cummings said he does not have time and this is preferable to doing updates piecemeal.

McCoy has declined to respond to a reporter’s questions about the regulations until a Nov. 7 meeting with the Journal Inquirer.

Blackwell, Davis, and Spadaccini has not done much other legal work for the town but has many ties to Republican politics.

Clark was failed gubernatorial candidate Thomas C. Foley’s campaign manager. Louis A. Spadaccini is the Republican mayor of Manchester and is not running for re-election. And, David H. Blackwell served as a Republican state representative from 1999 to 2003.

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