BROOKSVILLE — After months of consideration, the Hernando County School Board is finally on the verge of hiring new legal counsel.
A unanimous board agreed Tuesday to negotiate with the Pasco County firm of McClain, Alfonso, Meeker & Dunn. The firm has provided legal services to the district on a contract basis since board attorney Paul Carland left last spring to take a job with the Broward school district.
"We've received good service from the Alfonso firm," board member John Sweeney said. "They're like a one-stop shop."
The McClain firm comes with a proven track record, having served as general counsel for the Pasco School Board since 1972 and for the Pasco County clerk of circuit court for more than two decades.
The unanimity was not without reluctance on the part of two board members, though.
The board had solicited applications for both in-house and contract services and narrowed the field to three finalists. The McClain firm offered only outside contract services, as did Denise Lyn, an Inverness attorney with her own practice. Richard Withers of Apopka initially applied for both, but when the board asked all three finalists to provide a proposal, Withers only sought an in-house position.
Board member Dianne Bonfield said she preferred to have an in-house attorney who would be easily accessible to the staff. Superintendent Bryan Blavatt said there have been no problems operating with outside counsel.
Vice Chairman Matt Foreman said he had a preferred applicant, but wanted to enter negotiations with all three finalists to use their counteroffers as leverage to get the best deal.
To do otherwise, Foreman said, "is foolish financially."
But that strategy is based on the premise that the finalists can offer roughly the same level of service, board member James Yant said.
"In my mind, there's a firm that stands out," Yant said.
After Yant, Sweeney and Chairwoman Cynthia Moore indicated a desire to negotiate with the McClain firm, Foreman and Bonfield joined the majority.
The firm has proposed a monthly retainer of $4,950 for 30 hours of attorney time. Beyond 30 hours, the district would pay $165 per hour.
Lyn sought an hourly rate of $160 for the first 15 hours per month and $170 per hour beyond that. She wanted to be paid $175 per hour for litigation services.
Withers had asked for an annual salary of $110,000, about the same amount Carland had been paid, plus health and retirement benefits.
As chairwoman, Moore will lead the negotiations.
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.