MERIDEN — City Manager Guy Scaife informed the City Council he no longer plans to use legal advice from Corporation Counsel Michael Quinn just days before the council accepted Mayor Kevin Scarpati’s recommendation to reappoint Quinn.
Scaife sent an email to councilors on Nov. 28 indicating that he instead intends to hire either an outside law firm or use a staff attorney, rather than Quinn.
Under the City Code, Scaife does not have the power to hire outside legal counsel without City Council approval, however. The council had a mixed reaction to Scaife’s email.
Democratic Majority Leader David Lowell said spending additional funds to increase the use of outside counsel may not be fiscally “prudent,” while Minority Leader Dan Brunet sided with Scaife, criticizing Quinn’s handling of several issues.
Scaife did not return requests for comment. Scarpati did not respond to a call for comment, and Quinn declined to comment.
The City Council accepted Scarpati’s recommendation to reappoint Quinn as corporation counsel Monday. Ahead of the meeting, Scaife shared with councilors, via email, what he called “serious performance issues” with Quinn.
Scaife also shared with the council a six-page document alleging deficiencies dating back to January, including slow response to Scaife’s requests; Quinn’s decision to hire an outside law firm to investigate Scaife’s role in the selection of CIRMA as the city’s new workers’ compensation administrator; Quinn’s handling of a former staff attorney’s request for additional leave and his handling of discipline for City Attorney Deborah Moore.
“In summary, Attorney Mike Quinn had demonstrated a pattern of behavior over a sustained period of time that is unprofessional and unacceptable,” Scaife wrote. “I have lost all faith in him as a neutral party, the wisdom of his judgment and legal opinion, and his ethics. His actions show a sustained effort to foster a personal agenda that is not in support of my efforts or in the best interest of the city. Going forward, I do not plan to use him for legal counsel on items that I would normally request assistance on from Corporate Counsel. Instead I will use a staff attorney or seek outside counsel.”
Citing City Code, Lowell said Scaife can only employ outside legal counsel with the approval of the City Council.
“Can the city manager just arbitrarily employ outside counsel because he’s not getting along or has an issue with corporation counsel?” Lowell said. “The way I read the city code is that he would need the approval of the City Council to do that.”
Although Quinn is the head of the legal department, he is appointed by the mayor and overseen by the City Council. He earns $29,000 in his part-time position as corporation counsel.
Moore and Associate City Attorney John Gorman are the city’s only staff attorneys after Scaife cut staff attorney Jennifer Farrell’s position in May, denying her an extension of unpaid leave. Quinn said the move would “handicap” his already strapped department.
The city’s legal department overran its budget for outside legal aid last year by $272,643, according to Finance Director Michael Lupkas. The department budgeted $325,000 for legal fees and deductibles in 2016-17 and spent $597,643.
The current year budget includes $365,000 for outside law firms, of which $118,442 has been spent.
Moore did not return a request for comment.
Brunet, the minority leader, said there is “distrust” of Quinn among the minority-party city councilors. Brunet called the corporation counsel position “extremely political,” and said the problem could be corrected if Quinn adjusts his behavior.
“The solution is, as far as Mike’s position here, he should just do his job as requested and perform it in a timely fashion,” Brunet said. “These are also typical management-employee relationships but normally they are not under a microscope or under the public eye. I don’t think it’s not correctable.”
Democratic Councilor Michael Cardona disagreed, saying corporation counsel reports to the council, not the city manager.
“It’s definitely our job to make an official assessment on Quinn,” Cardona said. “That’s not the city manager’s job. The city manager can give his opinion on Quinn’s performance just like any constituent can give an assessment on a councilor’s performance.”
He also said the council was aware of Scaife’s complaints about Quinn at the time of the reappointment, but expressed confidence that “these issues are going to get resolved.”