The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council last week accepted the resignation of longtime Town Attorney Michael Cirullo of the Fort Lauderdale law firm Goren, Cherof, Doody & Ezrol. The council set a workshop for Tuesday, May 28 to interview new candidates for the position.
“The time was right both professionally and personally for me, as well for the town to, in my opinion, have the ability to draw on more than one lawyer in a geographical area, and I think the timing is good,” Cirullo said at a meeting on Wednesday, May 8, which had been extended from Tuesday, May 7.
Cirullo noted that his contract calls for a 30-day notice.
“At the request of the council, that can be extended if you are in the process of making a selection or going through the selection process,” he said. “I would turn to the manager for any recommendation for the process, but I think the sooner you can have someone in who can carry you through the fiscal year and beyond, I think it would be better for the town.”
Town Manager Jamie Titcomb said that Cirullo has offered to continue to work cooperatively with the town if it seeks an interim or new attorney to converse with, troubleshoot or bring institutional knowledge to particularly troublesome issues.
“I also agree with the attorney that it is in the town’s best interest with the changing of the guard, with all the things that we’re dealing with, with the contracts, with everything that we’re reviewing, that getting a new set of legal eyes up and running quickly is advantageous,” Titcomb said.
He recommended that since the town is with the budget restraints of the current year, which runs through Sept. 30, that the council look at the option of hiring an interim attorney.
“When I say ‘interim attorney,’ I’m referring to an attorney or law firm that specializes in municipal, contract, labor, special districts and all the disciplines that we deal with,” Titcomb said. “I have talked to you individually in our meetings about it being my opinion that there are several very good municipal attorney and local government attorney firms in the county. There’s a whole host of them. Most of them are all members of the local League of Cities. Most of them carry or represent multiple cities, so the advantage of going with a firm might be that we get a number of disciplines under one roof.”
Titcomb recommended getting a list of available law firms from the Palm Beach County League of Cities as a beginning for the search, and that the town submit letters to the firms they choose and see if there is any interest, and set up interviews with a short list of respondents.
Titcomb said he used the term “interim attorney” to “try before you buy.”
“This gives you the option that if we come up on the next fiscal year, and you feel you want something different or a staff attorney or a larger firm or a smaller firm or whatever, you would have that option,” he said. “Typically speaking, all attorney agreements with local municipalities usually have something like a 30-day exit clause anyway.”
Cirullo said the effective day of his resignation would be May 23.
“If need be, it can go beyond that in order to facilitate a transition,” he said.
Vice Mayor Dave DeMarois said during that 30-day notice, he would like Titcomb to come up with three different firms to interview as interim attorney.
“Then we can do a proper search if we so choose,” DeMarois said. “That’s just my recommendation. I don’t know what the rest of the council would like to do.”
Titcomb said that if the council chooses a new firm, he would recommend extending Cirullo’s firm for a period of time.
“There is so much institutional knowledge and particular nuances to the issues and work out here that would be helpful for all parties, I’m sure,” he said.
DeMarois added that if the council sets another meeting before the end of May to hold interviews, the town could still have Cirullo on board to help smooth the transition.
Titcomb agreed that a second workshop meeting in May would help the council remain on an even keel.
Cirullo said the council could schedule a workshop with a special meeting afterward if it wishes to hire a new attorney that day.
DeMarois also suggested that the council revert to two meetings a month until the transition settles in. Cirullo said the council is free to hold two regular meetings a month as it has done in the past.
Councilwoman Phillis Maniglia said she agreed with the interim attorney concept.
“I trust Jamie. He’s been with the League of Cities a long time,” Maniglia said. “He’s worked with probably a lot of municipalities. He probably knows more attorneys than we do. I think an attorney and a doctor has to be the right fit.”
While she supported having Titcomb bring interim candidates, she said that town should also go through a formal request for qualifications (RFQ) process. “I think we owe it to our residents,” Maniglia said.
Cirullo said the council could get responses in time to hold a meeting on May 28 if it sends out letters of interest the following day.
“It’s not that difficult to give you all proposals from qualified firms,” he said. “They have the ability. The firms that you would like should be able to give you the information that you need in fairly short order.”
Cirullo added that the council could choose a firm on May 28 and approve an engagement letter at its June 4 meeting.
“You put it as the first item on the agenda, you approve it, we do the switch,” he said.
Councilwoman Laura Danowski made a motion to send out letters of interest and to publish a notice that on Tuesday, May 28, the council would hold a workshop meeting and interview attorneys that have shown interest, and that the council would choose a firm on June 4, and probably extend Cirullo’s contract for continuity to June 23. The motion carried 5-0.