County Board Lawyer Contract Renewed Despite Commissioner Criticism of Renewal Process

The Muskegon County Board of Commissioners approved a new 1-year contract with its long-time lawyer, Theodore “Ted” Williams and his firm Williams Hughes, PLLC, despite a protest from one of its commissioners regarding the renewal process.

Theodore M. “Ted” Williams, Jr. and his firm Williams Hughes, PLLC has provided legal services for the county board since 1985 and will continue to through 2013.

The past contract technically expired on January 1 of 2013, and has continued working for the county without a contract over the last month. Under the new 1-year contract approved Tuesday, the firm’s compensation will remain the same through the end of 2013.

District 3 commissioners Susie Hughes questioned the board’s renewal of Williams’ contract because they did not send out a request for proposals to select the lowest bid.

County Administrator Bonnie Hammersley responded to Hughes by explaining she was not directed by the board to send out a proposal, something required for her to take action.

Board chairman and district 9 commissioner Ken Mahoney cited the short length of the contract as a reason that no RFP was solicited by the board. District 4 commissioner Bob Scolnik also defended the one-year renewal by questioning the quality of responses an RFP may receive:

“If I were an attorney, I wouldn’t look for the cheapest attorney,” said Scolnik.

Citing his minority Republican party status on the board, Scolnik also stated that Williams “has done a great job”, and his political neutrality helps him represent the board effectively.

“An attorney for us needs to be non-partisan… I like that Ted isn’t.”

Hughes also posed a question about conflict of interest the firm may encounter, citing the many other governmental units that Williams and his firm represent.

Williams himself, echoed by Hammersley, explained that a standing plan is in place for any situations where conflicts may happen. In the event of litigation between Muskegon County and one of his other clients, the county prosecutor’s office would provide legal services to the county, and the municipality would need to find other representation.

Among many fields listed on their website, Williams Hughes, PLLC specializes in municipal and governmental law. Their 16 government-related clients include the county, seven municipalities within the county (the City of Muskegon Heights, the City of Norton Shores, Muskegon Township, Blue Lake Township, Casnovia Township, Holton Township, Muskegon Charter Township), one just outside of county lines (the Village of Hesperia), and the City of Muskegon’s Housing Commission.

Williams Hughes, PLLC also represents three other townships across the state, he Michigan Department of Transportation’s Highway Negligence Division, the Michigan Municipal Risk Management Authority, and two other insurance and risk-related companies.

In the end, Hughes voted unanimously to renew the contract with Williams Hughes, PLLC.

Andrew Trzaska

103.7 “The Beat” – local government beat reporter and political analyst