Councilman Questions First Selectman on Legal Fees ... Again

Town Councilman Nick Kapoor questioned First Selectman Steve Vavrek on cost overruns estimated to be between $569,000 and $703,000. Republicans accused Kapoor of playing politics.

Town Councilman Nick Kapoor questioned First Selectman Steve Vavrek on why legal fees will be between $569,000 and $703,000 over budget for fiscal year 2011-12 during the council's Monday night meeting.

Council Republicans questioned what Kapoor's intention was in continuing to bring up the deficit and some accused him of politicizing the legal account. Kapoor is chairman of the Democratic Town Committee and Vavrek is a Republican.

Kapoor charged that outside counsel is being hired way more often with Jack Fracassini as town attorney, while claiming his predecessor, Fred Martin, handled 90 percent of cases other than non-labor matters.

Councilmen J.P. Sredzinski and Frank Lieto, both Republicans, expressed strong skepticism over Kapoor's claim, though Kapoor said it was based on his own research.


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Lieto said, "You do not have the information to make these determinations. To stand up here on this dais to make blatantly irresponsible statements is unbecoming of a council member."

After the meeting, Kapoor said the issue of overspending legal fees had been brought up by Republicans serving on the Board of Finance before the Democrats had asked about it.

"I resent the implication that this is political," he said. "This is 650,000-plus dollars of taxpayers' money. As a council member, I am doing my job, looking out for Monroe taxpayers. We are in the people's seats when we sit on that dais. We should be standing up for the people and questioning whoever needs to be questioned."

Kapoor added, "Mr. Vavrek was evasive and other council members interceded on his behalf, deflecting pointed questions."

Prior to Kapoor asking his questions, Vavrek said he did not want to be "blindsided" and Town Council Chairwoman Enid Lipeles, a fellow Republican, pointed out that Vavrek did not know what the questions were ahead of time.

Kapoor had asked Vavrek why he chose the firm of Pullman & Comley to handle land use cases. Town Councilman Tony Unger, a Republican, expressed his belief that the council was overstepping its bounds in questioning the first selectman about choosing legal counsel, which he has a right to do by town charter.

"We're going against the charter by having this discussion," Unger said. "We have to let the first selectman enforce the laws and ordinances of this town."

Town Councilwoman Dee Dee Martin, a Democrat, agreed that Vavrek has the right to decide on legal counsel, but said the charter should not bar Town Council members from questioning the first selectman about his decisions.

On hiring Pullman & Comley, Vavrek said he did so based upon the recommendations of the Planning & Zoning Commission, which had spoken to four law firms. He added, "Pullman & Comley has a history of land use success."

Predicting Legal Costs

For 2011-12, the town budgeted $97,000 for legal fees and has spent $666,537 as of June 30. Kapoor asked Vavrek why he could not predict within a reasonable budgetary amount what the legal fees were going to be.

Vavrek said, "I think this has been explained at numerous meetings. There are ongoing cases. Do you want us to stop litigating? How can you predict ongoing litigation sir?"

Sredzinski said, "We've been through this over and over and over again. I'm not sure what the councilman's intention is. Budgets exist as a best guess. We approved that number."

He mentioned a recent case in which Bellsite Development LLC won a $700,000 judgement against the town. "We couldn't predict a $700,000 issue in February," Sredzinski said.

Lieto said "cases can be handled a million different ways."

Vavrek said to Kapoor, "If you can figure out a way to resolve cases beforehand, I would love to know."

Sredzinski said, "We can argue that the snowfall budget was under budget in 2008, but we can't predict the weather. This is pointless."

Since 2009, Kapoor said the town has been sued 21 times, so Vavrek cannot say all of the lawsuit costs were from previous administrations.

Unger said that just because the suits were brought within the last three years does not mean the problems did not begin sooner. He said Kapoor would have to look at each case to determine that.

Sredzinski said to Kapoor, "Do we want to make a motion? Do we want to take action? Or is this just a way for you to politicize the legal fees?"

"This is not a way for me to politicize the legal fees," Kapoor replied. "The reason I brought this up is this is truly outrageous. This is a lack of leadership. This is taxpayer money."

Donna Gail August 01, 2012 at 06:19 PM
I don't see how continuing to ask on this issue is "playing politics" by Mr. Kapoor. He, as well as BOF members and several members of the public, have been requesting better explanations about this $500,000+ over-spending on legal fees for months. I have yet to see a valid answer from Vavrek or anyone else. I agree - how could Vavrek or anyone else claim to be blind-sided? Why isn't this issue important to the Republican Council members, unless it's political for them - obviously they must be trying to protect Vavrek's or their own hides. I hope Mr. Kapoor (and MORE of our officials) keeps asking about these fees until a good explanation is received. A budget isn't just a "best guess" Mr. Szredzinski - it's supposed to be a guideline for the Town and BOE departments to follow. Why isn't someone scrutinizing or questioning these legal bills or trying to settle cases more quickly? And Mr. Lieto's comments are nothing but rude and arrogant.
Cara J. Kramer August 02, 2012 at 12:19 AM
The Democrats have no power to force someone out of his position. I never heard any of them blame Mr. Zini for all the legal costs. And if he was forced to resign, it was by his own party.
Cara J. Kramer August 02, 2012 at 12:22 AM
Wait, Unger says the discussion of legal fees was violating charter because they have to let Vavrek enforce the laws of the town? So now town council members cannot ask questions of the first selectman? I don't remember that ever being the case with any other first selectman.
D. Sickles August 02, 2012 at 12:48 AM
@Cara - amazing how low some town council members are willing to sink to protect the first selectman. Fair to say Unger, Sredzinski, and Leito are just party players and care nothing about the town. Glad they are being exposed here on Patch.
Rt25 August 02, 2012 at 11:17 AM
Don't care about any of these characterizations of people or politics, I just want a report from the first selectman on the issue of legal fees. Hopefully he is preparing the document.


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