The city council decided Monday night to hire its own attorney, but not until after a nasty exchange between councilors centered on whether the council's new law firm wants to impeach Mayor Eddie A. Perez.
Democratic Majority Leader rJo Winch said she sat in on the interview with the law firm Day Pitney LLP and was concerned. "There were things made in the presentation that really [were] an ... eye-opener," she said. "That led me to believe that this firm already had an agenda."
She didn't name the agenda. Councilman Pedro Segarra did.
"If Councilwoman Winch feels that she needs to be the protector of any particular person or branches of government at city hall, that is her problem," a visibly angered Segarra said. "If an issue came up that one of the possible avenues ... might be the fact that the mayor is under arrest and that ... might be the subject of an indictment by this council, or impeachment proceedings, that's within the realm of possibilities."
"I think everybody knows what is happening in this city. It's not a secret," Segarra said. "It's starting to border on the ridiculous."
Winch countered that she's not trying to protect just one person. Instead, she's trying to protect "the integrity of the government."
"When you go into an interview session and you ask a firm, what are some of the things you might offer this council, and the very first thing that firm says is about the impeachment process - excuse me," Winch said.
The council approved a resolution to hire Day Pitney LLP Monday. The lead attorney for the council will be Allan Taylor, known for his work on the city charter. Before voting, the council got a copy of a letter from Taylor outlining the firm's services.
In it, Taylor addresses the idea of potential conflicts of interest.
First, the firm represents the Hartford Housing Authority. Second, and more urgently, the firm has represented "various witnesses in the ongoing grand jury investigation involving the city," Taylor wrote. Taylor said he would advise the council should a conflict arise.
Taylor's hourly rate is $460. Other lawyers in the firm could be used, he said. The firm will give the council a 5 percent discount, as long as the bills are paid on time, Taylor said.
Additionally, because the council did not include money in this year's budget for its own outside counsel, the firm won't send any bills until the next fiscal year, Taylor wrote. Should the council not appropriate any money for the attorneys in the next budget, then the agreement between the firm and the council will end, he said.
Others on the council had their own opinions about hiring an attorney.
Republican Councilwoman Veronica Airey-Wilson said the process wasn't much of a process at all, and that "people's minds were made up long ago as to who they were going to hire."
Working Families Party Councilman Luis Cotto said the council should try to "disagree without disagreeable." Councilman Kenneth Kennedy told Winch that the point of the outside counsel was "to protect the integrity of the government, and for no other reason."
Council President Calixto Torres said he had been assured Taylor had no agenda when it came to the mayor's future.
And Councilman Matt Ritter tried to mediate.
"I would just say that it got a little intense around here, so I'll say the obvious," he said. With the budget deeply in the red and a mayor under arrest, an attorney for the council makes sense. "We have a tough couple of months coming up. "
Reached today, Taylor said "We have no agenda and we're simply waiting to be asked whatever questions the council wishes to ask us."