During a board of directors meeting for the Truckee Meadows Water Authority on Wednesday, the future of the board’s legal representation was questioned.
The McDonald Carano law firm has been contracted as the board meeting legal representation for TMWA since 2001 and hasn’t had to rebid for the contract. There are other attorneys who are employed by TMWA, but they work in other areas such as litigation.
“That’s a long time to have a government contract that doesn’t go up for review or reconsideration,” TMWA board member Jenny Brekhus said. “And in that time, as best I can tell, the point person for this very large, statewide law firm – we’re now on our third person.”
If the contract was put to bid, McDonald Carano could still secure the contract, but it would give other law firms an equal chance to legally represent TMWA in all their meetings.
“I think you just can’t let big government contracts lie forever,” said Brekhus. “We’re going on our third decade with them, and it’s time. It’s time for us to put to paper what [TMWA’s] needs are legally. It is time to see who’s out there.”
One reason this has been brought up now, she said, is to avoid any conflicts of interest there might be between TMWA contracting with McDonald Carano and the same firm being retained by adverse parties.
For example, the current board meeting legal representation from McDonald Carano is Lucas Foletta who has also represented organizations such as the Nevada Housing Alliance and the Nevada State Apartment Association.
TMWA General Manager John Zimmerman outlined three options going forward: sticking with the status quo of McDonald Carano, using TMWA staff legal representation or opening up a contract bidding process and seeing what options would come from that.
Staff counsel Stephanie Morris said during the meeting that there are practices in place to avoid overlapping conflicts of interest between legal counsel and other law firms.
The use of outside counsel is to monitor meetings as per open meeting requirements as well as other legal services. TMWA has two staff attorneys, so the added help of outside counsel gives them access to more specialized lawyers.
Board member Devon Reese said he agreed that the role of outside counsel needed to be better defined in a new contract but didn’t agree with the idea of conflict as stated by Brekhus.
“She’s wrong for a couple of reasons — one because unfortunately she’s chosen to weaponize this question of conflicts, and I don’t think that’s necessary to have this discussion,” he said. “We can have a discussion about what is important about the board’s policies without saying that any particular person has committed an ethics violation, so McDonald Carano as a law firm is above reproach.”
The board decided to have Zimmerman draw up a new possible bid for outside general counsel and also to look at the structure of what legal representation is used as well as the cost. The next time this comes up at a board meeting is when a final decision is made.