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Attorneys from same firm represent Wilmette, park district in negotiations

Sometimes being one happy family comes with a few complications, as Wilmette Park Board members learned when they heard the attorney who represents them in negotiations with the Village of Wilmette belongs to the same law firm as the attorney who represents the village.

That won’t be a problem, district Director Steve Wilson assured board members at their July 14 meeting, before recommending they let him sign a so-called conflict of interest waiver so the negotiations could go forward.

Wilson explained the situation originally occurred because the law firm of Tressler LLC acquired the separate practices of attorneys who had been working as outside counsel for the village and park district: Raysa and Zimmerman, in which village attorney Michael Zimmerman was a partner, and the practice of park district outside counsel Charlene Holtz.

Tressler merged with Raysa and Zimmerman in 2012; Holtz joined Tressler in 2009.

Tressler officials let both governments know that a waiver letter would be necessary if the two sides ever had to negotiate legal issues, he said. That included negotiations to renew a lease allowing the park district to use Wilmette’s Howard Park, and negotiations to allow the village to put sewage storage under the park district’s West Park.

The conflict of interest waiver from Tressler acknowledges the potential conflict, and asks both sides to allow their attorneys to continue negotiations.

Board member John Olvany asked if staff was confident the district would continue to be well represented during the negotiations.

“Charlene’s allegiance is always to her clients,” Wilson replied. “I’m comfortable, knowing the parties involved.”

Wilmette Village Manager Tim Frenzer echoed Wilson, and said July 15 that the lengthy experience of the respective village and park district counsel was valuable during such discussions.

“It’s not common, but its not unheard of,” Frenzer said of the waiver necessity, adding such situations could occur more often in future for government bodies, as the number of firms specializing in municipal law drops through further mergers.

Negotiations between Wilmette and the park district are friendly, Frenzer said, so it makes sense to waive any suggestion of conflicts of interest. Otherwise, both governments would have to hire new attorneys to handle the issues, which could prove expensive for everyone.

“You couldn’t have one side get new attorneys and the other side not do so, so you’re saving money on both sides,” he said.

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