Salisbury lawyer change delayed in conflict

Salisbury City Council’s vote on hiring a new law firm was delayed Monday, after one of the five Councilmen abstained, saying he had a conflict of interest.

As the Council voted on hiring Cockey Brennan & Maloney — the firm that bid lowest —   to replace current law firm Seidel Baker & Tilghman, newly appointed Councilman Hardy Rudasill asked to abstain.

Council President Jack Heath told him that wasn’t allowed, so Rudasill voted in favor and the motion to hire the new company passed.

Later, Councilman Jim Ireton asked why an abstention wasn’t permitted. Heath said his understanding was that a Council member must vote if he or she has adequate information to make a decision.

Rudasill said he’s had dealings with the firm in question in his career and felt it unfair if he voted.

After discussion, Heath agreed to accept the abstention and the motion to hire Cockey Brennan & Maloney failed.

At the suggestion of Mayor Jake Day, the matter was referred back to closed session for further discussion.

Later, Heath told the Salisbury Independent this was the first time the City Council used the process of accepting requests for proposal, or RFPs, to select a legal team.

Day suggested it, saying it would make the process more open, Heath said.

“Usually we would vote on a recommendation that came from his office. This was the first time we had been through this, so some differences of opinion are understandable. We have to take a step back now. The mayor is going to make a different proposal,” Heath said.

Heath said city leaders had discussed the idea of putting legal services out for bid “to see what’s out there because we never had a contract with an attorney before.”

“We are trying to see if there are other opportunities out there … for a whole package, a whole group of things, and to do it like we do with other proposals. There would be a contract now with clear expectations,” he said.

Cockey, Brennan and Maloney had the most desirable RFP, according to the City’s procurement department, based on its experience, resources, qualifications and competitive hourly rate.

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