Posted by: Archipelago Law in Municipal Law, Uncategorized on February 21, 2023

I notice that you call yourself a “Municipal Attorney and Advisor.”  What does that mean?

I’ve been a municipal attorney for much of my career. Practicing municipal law continues to be a large part of what I do at Archipelago.  In the traditional sense, “municipal law” refers to the body of legal issues, legal challenges, and legal questions that accompany work in municipal government. So, municipal attorneys, including those of us at Archipelago who practice municipal law, will often represent town planning boards and zoning boards of appeal in their review of applications or in their defense of appeals. We assist municipal officers and staff with drafting new ordinances and rules of procedure, and we flag constitutional or other legal concerns that might come up in connection with that work. We prepare contracts, review and draft internal policies, provide risk assessments, help with real estate closings, etc.  In other words, we provide the same traditional legal services that other “municipal attorneys” around the state and country do – and we work to bring our own individual perspectives and experiences to that work in ways that we think set us apart.

But Archipelago’s Municipal Practice Group does much more than simply practice traditional municipal law. I like to say that, in our role as “Municipal Advisors,” we are, first and foremost, municipal collaborators. We are problem-solving allies working side-by-side with municipalities as they tackle and work to solve the many and complex challenges communities are facing right now. We do that by working with communities to truly understand the problems they want to tackle or the policy goals they want to achieve and then we work a particular initiative or policy goal through the multi-disciplinary process that we think is foundational to truly effective, transformative policymaking.

I bet you have a visual of that process.

As a matter of fact, I do:

O.k.  Any chance you can dial in the concept of “municipal advising” a bit more?

Yes, happy to.

We know that municipalities and municipal officials know better than anyone the issues facing their communities. On one hand, they are running up against some of the most difficult, entrenched, thorny challenges of our time: Homelessness, lack of affordable housing, economic uncertainty, climate change. Municipal officials at all levels, whether town councils, town managers, administrative boards, or staff, know the problems that need fixing because they are either living and breathing the problems everyday as part of their jobs or their constituents are making sure they know about them.

On the other hand, municipal officials also know what the opportunities are. Public servants are chronic problem solvers.  They have inspired ideas about how to make their communities better. They want to be a part of the solutions and they have ideas about how to do that. 

The challenge, though, and where the vision sometimes doesn’t translate into action, is in finding the time and the expertise that truly effective, transformative policy requires.

Town officials are busy. They are working to administer programs that already exist – plowing the streets, ensuring that buildings are safe, feeding and housing our unhoused community members, reviewing land use applications . . . the list goes on. Because they are busy, municipal staffs don’t always have time to research and develop new policy initiatives – even when they know that those initiatives would make their jobs easier or transform the quality of life for the people they serve.   

As a result, towns are often faced with a compromise: forego the initiative all together or cobble together something in the name of “progress” that is “close enough” but that doesn’t fully achieve the goal – or that might even make the problem they set out to fix, worse.

And that’s where we come in.

O.k.  . . . And what do you do??

Say a municipality has identified a particular policy goal or initiative – something that is a top priority for that community or an initiative to address a problem that is particularly thorny.  The town has decided that that is the policy or initiative it really wants to focus on, fully explore, and “get right.”  That’s the policy or initiative that they bring to us.  The town explains the goal or the challenge it wants to address, and we then help work that policy or initiative through the development process with an eye toward successful adoption and implementation. That process might include some or all of the following:

  • Gathering and analyzing independent data;
  • facilitating public outreach;
  • consulting and collaborating with municipal staff;
  • conducting risk and liability assessments;
  • identifying best practices, possible approaches, and offering policy recommendations;
  • drafting ordinances and other recommended policy documents; and
  • assisting with implementation of new policies, including training staff or municipal boards on how to administer it.

By doing it this way, and by leveraging our multidisciplinary team of professionals (comprised of lawyers, scientists, and policy experts), we can conduct our assessments and formulate our recommendations not from a singular legal, scientific, or policy perspective. Instead, our research and assessments are conducted at the very intersections of law, science, and policy and incorporate data and perspectives from all three. Similarly, because we are working independently, we are able to break down the internal silos that can exist within an organization and facilitate inter-departmental collaboration and contributions within the organization. The results – recommendations around policy development, process, and practice – can then meaningfully embody a multi-disciplinary, fully collaborative approach. It is in this way that we help our clients achieve truly systemic, wholistic solutions to their most pressing (or thorny) challenges.

So, in sum?

We know that there are countless communities out there – countless town councilors, managers, staff, and constituents – who have innovative, bold ideas for how to fix the problems their communities are facing. But they are struggling to achieve those solutions because limited staff time, access to data and experts, or limited guidance and training on how to effectively implement new policies stymie their efforts.

So, bring those problems, bring those issues to us, and let us help you.  Let us do the work that’s needed to put together a good quality proposal – or set of proposals – that will allow you to develop truly effective, transformative policies.  Let us help you be the change-makers you set out to be and that your communities need.

Thank you.

Thank you.