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RFQ Proposal for Lansdale Solicitorship Passes 2-1 in Committee

Tony Di Domizio

Thursday, March 20, 2014 • 3:06pm

LANSDALE, Pa. - A Request for Qualifications process in order to potentially replace the Lansdale Borough solicitor did not receive a unanimous vote in the Adminstration and Finance Committee, with Councilman Denton Burnell dissenting.

The RFQ proposal on Wednesday also garnered more questions and concerns from its most vocal opponents: Councilwoman Mary Fuller and Councilman Jason Van Dame.

"The whole purpose of the RFQ was to prevent a political appointment on reorganization night, and I have yet to hear a legitimate reason to put the RFQ out," Van Dame said. "I have not heard a reason why we are not happy with the current representation. Just replacing a solicitor because that's what always happens doesn't make it the right thing to do. We have an excellent solicitor on staff now that's done a great job."

"I'm not sure council asked for an RFQ. We were asking for a reason as to why we need to change solicitors, and if we were going to, we shouldn't do it without an RFQ process. It wasn't a request for an RFQ," Fuller said. "I think getting the best representation possible is our end game and goal. We have to do what's right for this borough."
 
Fuller and Van Dame, primarily, have leveled accusations of cronyism at President Jack Hansen ever since his motion at the January reorganization meeting to — among other motions involving new professional consultants — replace sitting solicitor Wisler Pearlstine, LLP, with Friedman, Schuman, Applebaum, Nemeroff & Kilkenny, P.C.
 
Sean Kilkenny, a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserves, is a partner of the latter firm—and a contributor to Hansen's Friends of Lansdale PAC. Hansen heads the Lansdale Democratic Committee.
 
Last February, Kilkenny was told by Hansen to draft a letter to Friends of Lansdale supporters, asking for them not to support the reelections of Democrats Mary Fuller and Matt West because of their alleged lack of allegiance to the Party. West, the former council president, did not seek re-election. Fuller and incumbent Jason Van Dame won the two open seats in the Ward One election. Supporters were asked to support a new slate of candidates that shared Hansen's "progressive vision," per Lansdale Patch.
 
Kilkenny was appointed solicitor in 2008, when a Democratic majority landed on council, including Hansen and Councilman Rich DiGregorio Jr. Kilkenny served until 2010, as a new council was elected, with most members, including Fuller, being supported by the PAC "Citizens for a Better Lansdale." This new council voted out Kilkenny and brought in the current solicitor.
 
Last year, Hansen told Lansdale Patch that the Wisler Pearlstine appointment was "nepotism" and done without an RFQ process or review.
 
On Wednesday, Administration and Finance Committee Chairman Leon Angelichio said there were residents at the committee session concerned about the additional cost of going through an RFQ process.
 
"It was not an unanimous vote to move forward," Angelichio said. "We decided to progress through with the RFQ investigation and look at all possibilities and make sure we are doing it thoroughly and properly."
 
Councilman Denton Burnell said he was the dissenting vote in the committee.
 
"I asked a number of questions. In a year where we are spending an additional $250,000 we didn't plan on spending, I am concerned about looking at all expenditures in a new way," Burnell said. "Particularly, ones we don't need to make. This one ranks high on the list."
 
Earlier in the meeting Wednesday, Angelichio said the committee is prioritizing its capital improvements list, in the wake of the recent bout of snowstorms and cold weather.
 
"We are viewing it as a living and evolving document. How we are prioritizing it, and how difficult this winter was and the cost of dealing with it, will impact what we prioritize on the list," Angelichio said.
 
Speaking of costs, Van Dame on Wednesday said the RFQ proposal states that the borough would not incur additional costs to change solicitor and states that Wisler Pearlstine would continue with its duties.
 
"Now we're talking about not just replacing, but adding a solicitor," he said. "That goes against the idea of trying to save in costs. We need to think it through before we bring a motion to full council."
 
Van Dame said he was disapponted to read in The Reporter Newspaper that Lansdale Council was one that was trying to stall the issue.
 
"We're not stalling. We're making it open and transparent, all for the right reasons," he said.
 
Hansen said the RFQ proposal would come to council for full discussions with all questions answered, if passed by committee.
 
"As far as saying what I said in the paper: The council asked for this," he said.
 
"This is your opinion. This is Mr. Burnell's opinion. There are nine members of council and each has their opinion," Hansen continued. "When i comes before council, we will have a discussion on it. Every member can have their say. We will then vote on it. If five or more that vote to do it, there will (be an RFQ process). If five vote not to have it, there will not be."
 
Fuller then left council with some "food for thought."
 
She reported that Wisler Pearlstine was ranked Tier One in the Philadelphia region for municipal law in U.S. News and World Report's 2014 Best Law Firms list. Wisler Pearlstine, she added, was chosen for its "apoliticalism" and bipartisanship by council in 2010.
 
In fact, she said, the borough's environmental litigation firm, employment firm and bond counsel were all Tier One-ranked firms. U.S. News and World Report's list ranked firms on a combination of professional practice and breadth of experience using ratings by clients and peers. Eligibility included being a lawyer in "Best Lawyers of America" and being in the top 4 percent of practicing attorneys in the U.S., Fuller said.
 
Absent from said list: Friedman, Schuman, Applebaum, Nemeroff & Kilkenny, P.C.
 
"I hope people are happy to know that we currently employ Tier One-ranked law firms," Fuller said. "We should be proud of that and not so quick to change what is more than working."
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