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© St. Petersburg Times,
published October 28, 2001
MADEIRA BEACH -- New City Attorney Tom Trask was greeted with applause when the mayor introduced him Tuesday night at his first City Commission meeting.
But minutes later, city commissioners ignored his first piece of legal advice and voted to pay consulting firm Jones Edmunds & Associates $200,000 to complete the city's master plan.
Trask, a partner with the Dunedin-based firm Frazer, Hubbard, Brandt & Trask, had urged commissioners to solicit bids for the consulting services. But the mayor and three commissioners were pleased with Jones Edmunds' earlier work this year and were not convinced that the law requires them to bid the contract.
"It's not illegal," Mayor Tom DeCesare said. "It's just risky, maybe."
Commissioners also were doubtful that one of Jones Edmunds' competitors would sue the city.
Trask said he had never seen a competitor sue on the basis of the Consultants Competitive Negotiation Act, the law Trask thinks obligates the city to bid the services. Still, he hoped Madeira Beach would be cautious.
"It is my opinion that the safest course of action for the city to take would be to go through the Consultants Competitive Negotiation Act process to determine who is most qualified to provide the services that are being contemplated by the city," Trask wrote in a four-page legal opinion he gave commissioners.
"The question is whether or not you want to take that chance of being challenged," Trask said Tuesday night.
Commissioner Charles Parker, himself a lawyer, was the only board member to advocate following Trask's advice and bidding the project.
"We should be following the law, and it appears we're not doing so," Parker said.
For $200,000, Jones Edmunds will create a master plan for Madeira Beach, soliciting public participation and devising land use language the city can adopt to make the plan reality.
The project will begin with a town meeting Nov. 17 at City Hall.
The city already had a contract with Tampa-based Jones Edmunds, but Trask thought the master plan went beyond the contract's scope.
Trask is the third lawyer that Madeira Beach has worked with this year. The City Commission decided in December not to renew its contract with former City Attorney Andrew Salzman after two commissioners, Doreen Moore and Jan Sturgis, said they did not trust his legal advice.
Salzman stayed with Madeira Beach until April, when the city hired Tampa lawyer Richard Harrison. He quit in September, citing family obligations.
In voting to accept the contract with Jones Edmunds instead of seeking bids, the mayor explained that city commissioners like working with the consulting firm. "We've spent a lot of time with them," DeCesare said. "They know what we're about."
And Moore said she wasn't convinced the consulting contract was subject to bid requirements, despite Trask's recommendation.
"Any contract can be challenged," she said. "We're not attorneys here; and we have an attorney, and I think he's erring on the side of caution."