Jay Daigneault of the Clearwater firm Trask, Metz and Daigneault is Indian Rocks Beach’s new city attorney.
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – After a 3 1/2-hour meeting, Indian Rocks Beach Commissioners decided to offer the vacant city attorney’s job to the first applicant interviewed: Jay Daigneault of the Clearwater firm Trask, Metz and Daigneault.
After the meeting on June 23, Mayor R.B. Johnson said it was the firm’s experience that tipped the scales over the other four candidates for the position.
“The depth of their experience was what did it,” he said. “We have not heard anything negative about their capabilities as far as the other towns are concerned.”
The firm represents nine other Pinellas County municipalities. Daigneault himself represents Tarpon Springs, Kenneth City and North Redington Beach. During his interview he said if chosen he would operate according to the needs of the community.
“We have a number of systems we used in representing other communities,” he said. “I will come here and implement a system tailored to your needs. Every community is different and once I see what your needs and goals are, I’ll better be able to set up a system designed to meet those needs and goals.”
Commissioner Terry Hamilton-Wollin was particularly concerned about Daigneault’s interaction with city staff and commissioners. He made it clear how he intended to operate.
“Communication is critical,” he said. “I intend to talk to the city manager daily, even if it is just to check in. I will need to stay on top of issues and make sure I’m in a position to give good legal advice when necessary.”
Hamilton-Wollin wanted to know how Daigneault would behave if, during a commission meeting, he saw the commissioners heading down a wrong path, or as she put it, going over the edge.
“It is a delicate balance,” said Daigneault. “I owe my loyalty to the commissioners, but I can’t just sit there. I would have to stop you from going over the edge.”
He added it was stressful to be sitting on the dais with the commissioners and having to make decisions, which would bring them back into line and away from legal difficulty. He said he would have to do it as gently and as respectfully as possible.
When asked by Commissioner Phil Hanna how he preferred to operate, either through litigation or negotiation, Daigneault said litigation.
“Just because I prefer litigation doesn’t mean I want litigation, not at all,” he said. “Occasionally litigation has to happen but it is possible in most cases to keep you out of litigation. Ninety percent of disputes involving municipalities are solved through negotiation.”
Apart from the three communities represented by Daigneault, other attorneys in the firm represent six other Pinellas municipalities. They are Dunedin, Oldsmar, Madeira Beach, Belleair Bluffs, Indian Shores and Redington Beach. Daigneault said the attorneys who represent those communities would be available to pitch in for him if he can’t make a meeting in IRB. That was something that impressed Johnson.
“They have the flexibility and capability to handle what we need,” he said. “We want someone to be able to hit the ground running, not someone who has to learn on the job, it is crucial for us to have the new attorney flow smoothly into our operation.”
Commissioner Cookie Kennedy made the motion to hire Daigneault. She had seen his firm in action earlier and was impressed.
“I had to make a presentation to the Madeira Beach Commission a few weeks ago. While I was sitting in the audience I had an opportunity to watch the attorney in action,” she said. “It was smooth and professional. There was great communication and an easy rapport with the mayor and commissioners and it came into my head whenever we need an attorney this is who I’d like to see in Indian Rocks Beach.”
Commissioner Jim Labadie said the questions he asked of all the applicants during the interview process were aimed at getting the attorneys to elaborate on their experience in the municipal field.
“The majority didn’t have great depth or experience,” he said. “I was also looking for confidence and the firm we chose displayed good confidence in what they were about. They have the team and the experience we’re looking for.”
The commissioners unanimously agreed that Daigneault and his firm were what they wanted. Johnson said the decision was made after the interview process was over.
“We gave everybody a fair hearing,” he said. “We were able to listen to everything people had to say and they asked us questions as well. It turned out as well as it could with no particular glitches. There was no controversy among us and it was obvious that one firm rose above all the others.”
Now City Manager Gregg Mims will negotiate a contract with the new firm. The intention is to have a deal in place for approval by the commission at the July 8 meeting and to have Daigneault in place by July 17.
If Mims can’t reach an agreement with Daigneault, the commissioners have indicated the next candidate to be approached would be the firm of Gray Robinson. Attorney Campbell McLean would be the attorney representing that firm. Five firms were interviewed.