Attorney Darrin Callahan of Owens, Schine & Nicola is the Trumbull Housing Authority's new lawyer, replacing state Sen. Anthony Musto.
But residents of Stern Village, which the THA controls, said there are better candidates. On Wednesday, the THA agreed to pay $160 an hour for Callahan and $80 for a paralegal. The THA is only billed when they use the attorney, said Acting Chairman Russ Friedson.
Reading from a list of issues, Paul Littlefield, chairman of the Tenants' Association, first said the current THA board was illegally constructed under state law.
Friedson denied that.
"This board is properly and legally constructed" and backed by a legal opinion from a town attorney in December, he said. The THA board's members were replaced in December 2012 by First Selectman Tim Herbst. Some former members were not reappointed while others resigned.
Friedson said the board would not hear political issues or personal attacks.
Littlefield next said he was concerned that the firm would cost more than Musto's services. Friedson later replied that other bidders charged as much as $200 or $300 an hour.
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According to Littlefield, "This is our home. This is where we pay rent. We have a legitimate concern about an arrangement proposed to the board." Musto, he added, knew more about housing authority law and could address problems at the state level.
In his next statement, Littlefield, citing Callahan's biography on the law firm's Website, argued that Callahan was a litigator and dealt in commercial business law. He did not have enough experience with housing authorities and has not met the five-year legal experience requirement, the speaker said.
"[He] lacks prior experience or knowledge" and "appears to be deficient in specific qualifications" to represent the THA, Littlefield said. "It appears there is not a fit between attorney and client."
Friedson stopped Littlefield there, saying the statements were personal attacks. Littlefield said he was performing due diligence.
"If I were buying a television set, I would ask questions," the association chair said.
Littlefield also asked if the THA could get a second opinion. The residents must spend their own money to do that, Friedson said.
After a few more statements, Friedson ordered Littlefield to stop speaking to give others a chance to address the board. "Everybody notice that I am being closed down?" Littlefield asked.
Eventually, the board approved the retainer agreement after telling the audience that legal fees would not escalate beyond previous fees under Musto. Friedson added that he hoped an attorney would not be needed much.
Afterward, the THA board and Littlefield sketched out the procedure to elect a Stern Village resident to serve on the board. That procedure is under review.