Marco City Council hires new law firm from Fort Lauderdale-Miami

Steve Stefanides
Atty Alan Gabriel from Weiss-Serota will be assigned as the city’s new attorney

The Marco Island City Council this week hired the law firm of Weiss Serota Helfman Cole Bierman & Popok from the Fort Lauderdale-Miami area to handle the city's business.

Attorney Alan Gabriel, a firm partner, will be assigned to the city.

The Naples firm of GrayRobinson has been handling city legal matters, with attorney Burt Saunders serving as lead representative.

The council met in a special workshop session prior to Monday evening's regularly scheduled meeting to review proposals from prospective firms.

In an attempt to clear the air, council had scheduled a workshop with what council members believed to be GrayRobinson's upper management last month, but was disappointed when only Saunders and two associates attended. A request for proposals to other firms was then reactivated to see if other firms in addition to GrayRobinson might wish to bid.

Council members last week received a communication from Saunders, removing GrayRobinson from consideration. For the last year and half, council members have expressed a growing dissatisfaction with the firm's service, ranging from billing issues to lack of communication.

Council received responses from Lewis, Longman and Walker, a state-wide firm specializing in municipal law. They also received a proposal from Weiss-Serota.

Both firms have done work for the city in the past – Lewis, Longman and Walker in the environmental field and Weiss-Serota as the city's legal counsel for several years before a previous council switched to GrayRobinson.

Both firms have numerous contracts with a number of South Florida communities on both the east and west coast.

Council members grilled representatives from the firms on all aspects of providing legal services, from human resources, environmental, to zoning and litigation issues. Many of the questions dealt with how the city would be charged for services.

Councilman AmadeoPetricca, who has a reputation for diving into the numbers, questioned Kevin Hennessey of Lewis, Longman and Walker about billing.

"I'd like to make sure we would be given appropriate credit if we had less meetings," said Petricca.

Others also pressed both firms on that issue and details of how the city's business would be handled. The comfort level a number of council member have with the firm of Weiss-Serota tipped the scales in that firm's favor.

Another factor in the choice was the heavy concentration by the Lewis, Longman and Walker firm in the area of lobbying and the potential conflicts some councilmen saw that might arise.

Details on the transition between the two firms will be worked out with the city manager prior to the new firm's taking over.