Seewald Sworn In as City Solicitor; Narkewicz Hires Springfield Lawyer for BID Case
By MARY SERREZE
NORTHAMPTON — It’s official. Mayor David Narkewicz now has his city solicitor of choice on tap, following a brief swearing-in ceremony at City Hall Friday morning.
“I feel great,” said lawyer Alan Seewald immediately after City Clerk Wendy Mazza administered the oath of office to him. “I’m honored to be able to serve the community where I’ve lived for 30 years, and I’m very thankful to the mayor for giving me this opportunity.”
The solicitor’s job pays up to $100,000 a year. Seewald will not be on staff, but retained as outside counsel while maintaining his own private-practice clients.
First approached by Narkewicz about the solicitor’s job late last December, Seewald was unable to accept the job until he could wash his hands of a lawsuit where he represented parties suing the city over the formation of the downtown Business Improvement District (BID). Narkewicz — then the City Council president, acting mayor and mayor-elect — said later that he knew Seewald had to remove himself from the lawsuit when he made the job offer.
At a Jan. 6 hearing here, Superior Court Judge Mary-Lou Rup denied Seewald’s motion to withdraw from the case, saying BID litigants Eric Suher, Alan Scheinman and David Pesuit needed time to find a new lawyer. That ruling was made without prejudice, meaning Seewald could resubmit his motion at a status hearing set for Feb. 15, which he did.
Last Wednesday Rup gave her assent to Seewald’s resubmitted motion, even though the plaintiffs in the BID lawsuit — businessmen Eric Suher, Alan Scheinman and David Pesuit — hadn’t yet inked a deal with replacement counsel.
Scheinman, in opposing the motion at court, fought to keep Seewald on as “counsel of record” so there would be no chance he’d reveal privileged information while working for their prime opponent, the City of Northampton. Scheinman also informed Rup that, at his request, the state Board of Bar Overseers was investigating Seewald, and asked the judge to consider “conflict of interest” in her ruling. Rup rejected that argument, saying that issue was not within her purview, and that she had no reason to believe Seewald would act unethically.
Narkewicz also announced Friday that he has retained attorney Nancy Frankel Pelletier of the Springfield law office of Robinson-Donovan to represent the city in the BID lawsuit.
According to the mayor, Pelletier has been instructed not to consult, discuss, or share information with Seewald in the course of her work for the city.
“We’ve tried to create that situation so we have a firewall around the BID case,” said Narkewicz.
Questioned by Northampton Media at an impromtu press conference after the swearing-in, Narkewicz said the city is involved in at least a dozen lawsuits, the most important of which concerns a 2006 proposal for a Hilton Garden Inn Hotel at the city-owned Roundhouse Parking Lot behind Pulaski Park.
The controversial hotel never got built; after one of many permitting extensions was denied by former Mayor Mary Clare Higgins, the Pioneer Valley Hotel Group in 2010 sued the city for breach of contract. That case is winding its way through Hampden Superior Court.
Narkewicz said Seewald’s background in land use, “one of the flash points in municipal government,” will serve the city well.
“I feel like we have a strong team to represent the city,” said Narkewicz.
Seewald recieved a Juris Doctor Magna Cum Laude from the Western New England School of Law in 1985, teaches at the Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and was counsel for the Town of Amherst from 1988 to 2006.
Former city solicitor Elaine Reall will stay on as labor counsel, handling personnel and collective bargaining issues, Narkewicz said.
© 2012 Northampton Media
Mary Serreze can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org