|In 2015, the Board of Directors determined to retain the services of an experienced “in-house” legal counsel, similar to the cities of Conroe and Sugar Land, along with a paralegal/administrative assistant position. The resulting Township General Counsel attends all Township Board meetings, works with staff in agenda preparation, on various community issues, transactions and agreements, and responds to Board questions as needed. The Township General Counsel is responsible for working with all Township departments and managing all contract legal work.
The Township further determined to retain its existing relationship with its then current legal service providers, as the Township's transition to in-house General Counsel was not intended to replace all contract legal services. Rather, the intent was to move the more routine transactional, day-to-day legal needs/staff services in-house but to continue to contract for outside legal services when dealing with specialty services such as litigation, covenant enforcement, or governance planning and issues regarding special purpose district authority or legislation and bond issuances as well as employment matters.
The budget line item for contract legal services for covenant enforcement remains in the Covenant Administration Department budget; while all other funds for contract legal services are included in the Legal Services Department budget. The budget item for covenant enforcement is most closely analogous to municipal prosecution of zoning and nuisance violations, for which many cities outsource their legal services.
At its December 7, 2016 meeting, the Board authorized the continuation of the agreements with The Strong Firm, P.C. (for covenant enforcement and real estate matters) and Schwartz, Page and Harding, L.L.P. (for Legislative drafting and Special District work). Their current Letters of Engagement run through June 30, 2017.
Since then, the Township issued a Request for Qualifications for Specialty Legal Services in the areas of Legislative drafting, Special Purpose District and Real Estate/Covenant Administration.
The Township has been very fortunate in our association with the current legal service providers and we have received excellent, high quality legal services to date. The Township is not required to solicit qualifications or proposals for legal services. The rationale for soliciting proposals for legal services is not due to dissatisfaction with the current providers, but rather to assure that firms interested in providing legal services to the Township government have the opportunity to be considered.
Nine firms responded and the proposals were reviewed by a staff committee. The staff committee was impressed with the quality and expertise of the firms submitting proposals to the Township. The staff team analyzed the proposals submitted and met to discuss the merits of each proposal submitted. Staff believes that any of the firms could provide competent legal services; however, we recommend continuation of the agreements with the Strong Firm for covenant and real estate matters and Schwartz Page and Harding for legislative and special district work for the following reasons:
Both firms were involved in the transition from the Community Associations and Town Center Improvement District (TCID) into the current Township structure and have the best working knowledge of the Township's abilities and limitations.
Schwartz, Page and Harding specializes in special purpose districts and has the most thorough understanding of Township-specific legislation as the firm has been involved and represented the Township in legislative and legal matters since the District's inception.
The Strong Firm has assisted the Township in more aggressively pursuing covenant violations, while honoring the community's commitment to high quality customer service.
Given the other prospective changes under consideration for Township's form of governance, it could be desirable to stay with the existing legal counsel for the foreseeable future. Having a well rounded team of legal counsel comprising in-house general counsel, the firm with best understanding of the Township as a special district, the firm with the best understanding of the Township's covenant process, and the previously contracted municipal attorneys will allow for the best possible legal team as the Board considers the next steps in the path to incorporation.
In addition, while the other firms who submitted proposals have experience with the relevant areas of law and may offer a lower hourly rate, there is a premium exacted where the Township would have to pay any new counsel to become familiar with the Township and its unique governance.