By Dan Moffett
The Briny Breezes Town Council has narrowed the field of applicants for town attorney to four law firms and will hear presentations from the finalists during a special meeting on June 14.
Among the contenders is John Skrandel, who has held the position for the last five years, succeeding his father, Jerome F. Skrandel, who served Briny for 38 years after becoming its first town attorney in 1975. He died at 84 in 2013.
Despite the long relationship with the Skrandels, some residents and council members have complained that the town’s legal bills have risen too much in recent years. Last summer, the council decided to advertise the position and seek proposals from other providers.
The town heard from seven firms by December. One dropped out of the running recently. During a special meeting in May, the council eliminated two others, Bradley Biggs of Wellington and Weiss Serota of Coral Gables. Biggs, a solo practitioner like Skrandel, fell out of favor because some council members believe the town would be better off hiring a larger firm. The council rejected Weiss Serota as too pricey after it submitted a flat rate proposal of $4,000 a month.
The finalists are:
• Caldwell, Pacetti, Edwards, Schoech & Viator of West Palm Beach. The firm has represented the Indian Trail Improvement District, Northern Palm Beach County Improvement District and the town of Lake Clarke Shores. It proposed charging Briny $225 an hour.
• Davis & Ashton of West Palm Beach. Keith Davis, the firm’s principal, is town attorney for Manalapan. Other clients include Tequesta, Atlantis, Mangonia Park, Palm Beach Shores and Royal Palm Beach. The proposed fee to Briny Breezes was about $170 an hour or $2,500 a month flat rate.
• Nason, Yeager, Gerson, White & Lioce of Palm Beach Gardens. The firm has represented Riviera Beach, Port St. Lucie and municipal clients in Martin County. The proposed rate for Briny Breezes is $180 an hour or a $2,500 a month flat fee.
• Skrandel proposed continuing to charge Briny $185 an hour. The town is his only municipal client, and he has been philosophical about the council’s opening his position to other applicants: “It’s something lawyers go through from time to time.”
During the June special meeting that begins at 2 p.m., each firm will have a half-hour to make a presentation and answer questions. The council will have some added leverage as it considers its options.
Council President Sue Thaler says that Briny’s legal bills have been steadily falling this year, coming in roughly between $600 and $800 per month, compared with some as high as $3,000 to $4,000 last year. The reason? Hiring Dale Sugerman as the town’s first manager in January. Thaler said Sugerman has been doing the administrative work that would have gone to Skrandel in previous years, and so the new position is saving money.
“The fact that legal fees decreased substantially validates our belief that he would do a lot that we previously used the attorney for,” she said of Sugerman.
In other business:
• Sugerman told the council during its meeting on May 24 that he is making progress negotiating with Boynton Beach utilities officials to get in-city water rates for Briny. The town currently pays Boynton an average of about $16,400 per month, and that could fall to roughly $14,300 with in-city rates. It figures to a savings of about $40 per year for each customer.
• The town is cracking down on scofflaws who refuse to get permits for work on their homes. With a unanimous vote, the council approved a resolution that doubles permit fees to penalize homeowners who ignore the building rules.