Town Meetings 2013

March 28, 2013

Pittston voters reject budget request

By Paul Koenig
Staff Writer

PITTSTON -- The town can't pay nearly $9,000 in legal fees it incurred between February and the March because residents rejected that budget request at the annual Town Meeting.

click image to enlarge

Jane Hubert participates in the debate during the Pittston Town Meeting on Saturday, March 16, in the Pittston School gym.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

The legal issues racked up as town officials worked with attorneys about the firing of longtime Town Clerk Ann Chadwick and a citizens' petition to recall the three selectmen.

Meanwhile, the Board of Selectmen decided that a special election next month will include two votes: a recall vote on a current selectman and an open election to fill the seat of Tim Marks, who recently resigned from the board.

Selectwoman Jane Hubert said she contacted the law firm Bernstein Shur to check about the possibility of a reduction in the fees and to let them know of the town's predicament.

She didn't hear back on Thursday.

"I think they understand the situation too," she said. "They were involved in it, so I'm hoping we can reach some kind of an agreement."

The attorneys billed for 23 occasions in February and March. The work included speaking with town officials about a personnel matter, attending selectmen's meetings and reviewing and drafting documents.

All but one of the incidents were handled by attorneys Matthew Tarasevich and Lee Bragg, who charge $275 and $300 per hour, respectively.

Last year the town spent about $3,500 on legal services from the firm, according to the town report. In 2011, legal expenses totaled around $5,700.

Residents give permission through voting on the annual town warrant for officials to spend no more than one third of each budget item between January and the March Town Meeting.

Last year voters approved $9,000 for legal fees, so the town officials had permission to spend $3,000. The town requested $9,000 again this year, which voters rejected.

The surplus from last year's legal service account went back into the general funds surplus, but Hubert doesn't know whether it can be used to pay legal fees anymore.

She said the board probably will have to schedule a special town meeting during the summer to appropriate funds for legal fees and discuss other issues raised at the March Town Meeting.

"It has to be addressed. We have to pay our bills," Hubert said. "Otherwise, we'd be sued."

The selectmen decided to not reappoint Chadwick, 75, when she refused to resign at a meeting March 6. She had held the job for more than 20 years, but selectmen said she had failed to address concerns about poor job performance.

Within a week, residents submitted petitions with triple the signatures needed to trigger a recall election about the selectmen, which will be held April 24.

Only Ted Sparrow Jr. remains from the three-person board that fired Chadwick. Selectwoman Wanda Burns-Macomber lost to Hubert by a landslide during the regularly scheduled March 18 election. Marks, citing the community response to the Chadwick firing, resigned March 21.

Four residents took out papers on Thursday to run for Marks' seat, including former selectman Stanley Byrne, who also lost to Hubert earlier this month in the three-person race.

Mary Jean Ambrose, Daniel D. Myshrall and John S. Martin also took out papers to run. Candidates having until Monday afternoon to take out nomination papers and gather at least 25 signatures to be on the ballot.

Paul Koenig -- 621-5663


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