REDINGTON SHORES — Town Attorney James Denhardt, who has represented Redington Shores for the past 43 years, submitted his resignation effective Sept. 30. Denhardt’s resignation followed a decision by the town to seek new bids for the town attorney position. Commissioner Michael Robinson said the town had never bid out the attorney services in all the years Denhardt has had the job.
Two legal firms, Trask Daigneault, L.L.P. and Waugh Grant PLLC, responded to the bid request. The commission chose the Trask Daigneault firm at its Sept. 8 meeting. The new town attorney will be Rob Eschenfelder, who also represents Redington Beach.
In the discussion before the vote, Eschenfelder said Trask Daigneault, based in Clearwater, “almost exclusively represents local municipalities and governments.” They include Tarpon Springs, Belleair Bluffs, North Redington Beach, Redington Beach, Oldsmar, and others.
“We have good experiences with beach communities and the issues that come up,” Eschenfelder said. He also described himself as “an out-of-the-box thinker who looks at new and different ways of doing things.”
Christian Waugh, of the law firm Waugh Grant, attended the meeting via Zoom. He told the commission his firm represents Hilliard, Pierson and Callahan in northeast Florida, towns with a population of 1,500 to 3,000, similar in size to Redington Shores’ 2,200. Their primary office is in Orlando. Waugh said he is the town attorney for the towns of Hilliard and Pierson.
“We enjoy representing municipalities,” Waugh said.
Commissioner Michael Robinson made the motion to hire Trask Daigneault as the next town attorney. “I appreciate the fact they represent municipalities along the Gulf coast,” Robinson said.
Commissioner Jennie Blackburn said she could see “clear advantages in using a firm that has experience serving similar size towns to ours and being local,” but adding she could also see benefits of having a firm from outside the area that might have some new ideas.
The vote for Trask Daigneault was 5 to 0.
In a comment following the meeting, Mayor MaryBeth Henderson told the Beacon the commission went out for bids on the town attorney position because “Commissioner Robinson has been saying that this is a significant amount of money, and we go out for bids on things that cost much less money.”
Henderson said the town had gotten quotes on such things as sea walls and replacing a portion of a roof at Del Bello Park, “and those are a lot less than attorney’s services.”
In his resignation letter, Denhardt said the major reason he is dropping Redington Shores as a client is to allow time for him and his wife to travel.
“My wife and I have been fortunate enough to have been able to travel extensively throughout the world and that is something we wish to do much more in the future. For that reason, it is necessary for me to discontinue representing several clients,” said the letter from Denhardt, co-signed by his law partner Lauren Rubenstein. “Accordingly, we submit our resignations as Town Attorney and Assistant Town Attorney effective September 30, 2021.”
Denhardt went on to say that he was aware Redington Shores was seeking proposals for legal services, and he assured town officials his firm would do what it could to ease the transition to another firm. He did not say why his law firm did not submit a bid to continue representing Redington Shores with partner Lauren Rubenstein. Rubenstein has been actively involved with Denhardt over the past several years in providing legal services to the town.
When the town put the attorney services out for bids, the expectation was that Denhardt would bid to be rehired.
“I never thought in a million years he wouldn’t put his name in the hat. I really had no clue that was going to happen,” Henderson said.
Asked if there was any dissatisfaction with Denhardt as town attorney, Henderson said, “No, not at all. It was nothing connected with his job performance at all.” She added, “After 43 years, his is a proven track record. He’s done a good job.”
Henderson said she did not think many towns have had one attorney for 43 years. “That should tell you something about our satisfaction with him. It’s been a long time. But, sometime it’s time to change,” Henderson said, “and maybe that time is now.”
There will be a going-away party for Denhardt and Rubenstein following the workshop meeting scheduled for Sept. 29 at 2 p.m.