“[T]he Town does not have a retainer agreement with KP Law.”
That’s what Amherst Town Manager Paul Bockelman wrote recently in response to a public record request of mine for a copy of the town’s “Retainer Agreement, or whatever it might be called,” with KP Law, P.C., of Boston.
KP Law has been the town’s only law firm since at least 2011. How can the town not have a “Retainer Agreement, or whatever it might be called,” with KP Law?
KP Law sends monthly invoices to the town. Public record requests have yielded copies of KP Law’s invoices: $20,233.41 for May 2021, and $12,107.00 for June 2021. The town evidently pays on these invoices and it must use taxpayer funds to do so but by what authority?
KP Law attorneys sign the briefs and speak at oral argument for the town in the voting rights lawsuit, Allen, et al. v. Board of Registrars of the Town of Amherst. This is pending in Superior Court in Northampton. Presumably, KP Law attorneys have reason to believe that the town has authorized them to represent it. But — by what authority?
Something in writing must authorize KP Law to tell the court that it represents the town, and must authorize the town to pay KP Law tens of thousands of dollars for doing so. Any such document can only be a public record. It cannot be privileged. So on Thursday, September 3, 2021, I filed an appeal to the Secretary of the Commonwealth for the town manager’s failure to produce it.
This points up yet again a fundamental flaw in the town’s new charter. The legislative and executive powers inhere in a single body: town council. It hires and can fire the town manager. Only a town council majority can hold the manager accountable for this evident flouting of the public records law, and for his undemocratic lack of transparency. We voters are left either to persuade the councilors, or else to vote them out this November.
What is in Amherst’s evident “Retainer Agreement, or whatever it might be called” with KP Law, that the town manager went to this length to prevent the public from seeing? If the appeal succeeds, it will be most intriguing to see.
Sarah McKee has lived in Amherst for more than 20 years. She is a former President of the Jones Library Trustees, and is a member of the D.C. Bar.