Watertown council to vote for Syracuse firm as city attorney

Sep. 15—WATERTOWN — Attorney H. Todd Bullard and the Rochester law firm of Harris Beach are out as the city's legal representation.

The majority of City Council is expected to appoint Bond, Schoeneck & King as the new city attorneys on Monday night. A resolution is included in Monday's council agenda to vote for the Syracuse firm.

Council members Cliff G. Olney III, Lisa A. Ruggiero and Patrick J. Hickey are expected to vote for the change after expressing dissatisfaction in recent months with Bullard representing the city on legal matters.

The two law firms were the only two to respond to a request for proposals for the job.

On Monday night, council members will be asked to approve what is essentially a contract for the job — called a letter of engagement — that spells out how much Bond, Schoeneck & King will be paid for the services.

In his memo to council members, City Manager Kenneth A. Mix wrote that the agreement goes into effect Tuesday if the council approves it.

"We were very pleased to learn that the City Council had selected our Firm to serve as City Attorney, and we look forward to working with you," attorney Jonathan Fellows, one of the attorneys who will represent the city, wrote in a Sept. 12 letter to Mix.

The firm will bill the city $275 an hour for attorneys and $150 for paralegals, described as "substantial discounts from our standard rates."

The firm also will bill the city for out-of-pocket expenses. The city can expect to be billed on a monthly basis, according to the agreement.

In addition to Fellows, Kristen Smith will be the lead attorney for general counsel matters, Colin Leonard will be the lead attorney for labor matters, and Tim McMahon and Fellows will represent the city in litigation and defense matters.

The change in law firms ends a contentious nine months with Bullard representing the city.

Olney accused Bullard of favoring legal opinions that would benefit Mayor Jeffrey M. Smith politically. Smith has denied that accusation.

Bullard also has been a lightning rod of a figure for some of his legal opinions and has been the subject of complaints that he has, at times, interfered with council on city issues.

In May, Bullard received some unwanted notoriety for a Facebook page named after him that mainly attacked Olney and other political enemies of the mayor. Some people saw Bullard as a bit of a hero trying to reign in an unruly council.

Bullard, who has traveled from Rochester to attend many council meetings, could not be reached for comment by press time.

According to Mix, Harris Beach has been paid about $192,000 for the legal services provided to the city for bills through the end of July.

Harris Beach began handling the city's legal work in January after longtime City Attorney Robert J. Slye left the position to work as the law clerk for state Supreme Court Judge James P. McClusky.