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Town Council puts legal future of Orange Park in Jody Lane Brooks’ hands

Posted 12/31/69

 ORANGE PARK – During Tuesday night's meeting, the Town Council selected Jody Lane Brooks as its new Town Attorney.

Mayor Randy Anderson and Town Manager Sarah Campbell interviewed …

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Town Council puts legal future of Orange Park in Jody Lane Brooks’ hands


Posted

 ORANGE PARK – During Tuesday night's meeting, the Town Council selected Jody Lane Brooks as its new Town Attorney.

Mayor Randy Anderson and Town Manager Sarah Campbell interviewed three law firms vying to be appointed as the new legal counsel to represent Orange Park. The previously contracted town attorneys – Kopelousos, Bradley and Garrison – will be stepping down after many successful years of service.

The council was tasked to pick between Jody Lane Brooks, Balch & Bingham and Vose Law Firm. The three introduced themselves during their interviews on Sept. 28, and they made their respective pitches and answered tough questions on how they would best represent the town of Orange Park. A discussed hot-button issue pertained to a law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in June, SB 170, which permits companies to sue local governments for “arbitrary or unreasonable” ordinances that harm profits. The Town Council held a special meeting to interview the three law firms that qualified on a pared down list of Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for Orange Park’s attorney services.The council will make their final selection on who will earn their new attorney services contract after a long run of success from Kopelousos, Bradley, and Garrison at Town Hall at their regular meeting on Oct. 3.

Wade Vose, partner at Vose Law Firm and resident of St. Augustine, who leaned on his firm’s results-driven approach. Vose brought a background specializing in appeals, and he shared his

Jody Lane Brooks, Balch & Bingham, and Vose Law each made their pitch to the council and Town Manager, Sarah Campbell. Representatives made their introduction to officials and answered tough questions about how they would handle town business. SB 170, which was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis in June, allows companies to sue local governments for “arbitrary or unreasonable” ordinances that harm profits, was a hot-button issue discussed between Orange Park and the three organizations that hope to become their suitors.

Paul Wade, Partner at Vose Law and St. Augustine resident, emphasized the firm’s result-driven approach when talking about the firm’s approach to the new bill. Wade, who specializes in handling appeals, shared a recentrecent victory in which he successfully defendinged a criticaln environmentally-critical ordinance in Naples, . which addressed algal blooms The victory addressed algal blooms and red tides caused by excessive fertilizer usefertilizer use. In 2017, red tide forced the city to close its beaches and collect 2,000 tons of dead sea animals from the shore. The fishing industry was ravaged. During the crisis, fishermen were lining up at food banks.

In 2017, the problem got so bad that they had to collect 2,000 tons of dead sea animals. Beaches were closed, and it devastated the fishing industry in that part of the state, he said, so much that fishermen were lining up at food banks. “It was a ‘Samson vs. Goliath’ case. It’s not just a career highlight and a victory for the firm, but a (major) victory for the state. Without that ordinance, the results are devastating,” he Vose said. 

The firm highlighted their an impressive track record in litigation, asserted a readiness to take on any challenge, and boasted an ability to take the “kill shot” in the courtroom.

asserting their readiness to take on challenging cases and their reputation for taking the “kill shot” when necessary to protect the town’s best interests. 

Patrick Krechowski, a partner at Balch & Bingham, who brought extensive experience involving land development codes. Krechowski aims to address potential developmental compliance issues across Orange Park if selected. To improve compliance with state and federal regulations, he plans to utilize Orange Park’s network of resources, notably reaching out to the Florida League of Cities to cooperate with other municipalities.

He emphasized the importance of staying informed in a dynamic legal landscape, ensuring accountability and working with other municipalities to pave consistency throughout the town and the county. , talked about his extensive experience in addressing land development codes. He emphasized the importance of staying informed about legal changes and potential compliance issues, not just for himself, but for the entire staff. Keeping track of other cases that went awry to learn more from those experiences and prevent them from happening in the town would also be part of the process if his firm were selected, Krechowski said. 

Improving compliance with state and federal regulations and tapping into Orange Park’s network and resources would also be on deck for Balch & Bingham if they were to be selected. This would likely include reaching out to the Florida League of Cities to receive advice from other municipalities, along with consistent education from the firm to the staff about the inner workings of compliance. He advocated for proactive measures to identify compliance needs, assign responsibilities, and ensure accountability within the town. 

Krechowski also touched on litigation, a critical aspect of legal services for any municipality. He addressed the challenge of controlling where litigation may lead and the potential financial strains that it can impose. In response, he proposed a structured approach, recommending a proposed budget with specific benchmarks, allowing the town to have a clear overview of associated costs if they select the firm.

He said that the majority of services for Balch & Bingham would be covered under a flat fee, but that there may be instances that fall outside the scope of basic services. This approach aimed to alleviate any uncertainties with legal fees. Vose Law would operate entirely under a flat fee structure if they entered an agreement with the town, they said. 

Jody Lane Brooks, founder and sole representative of her organization, pressed her expertise into the mix. Her impressive 30-year career led her to become the first Chief Legal Officer at Jacksonville Electric Authority and much of her work centered around environmental law. With a thorough knowledge of state and federal regulations and compliances, Brooks contends to be an asset to the town, if selected.

highlighted her legal background, which spans over 30 years. She touched on her impressive career trajectory, which included becoming the first Chief Legal Officer at Jacksonville Electric Authority. Much of her work focused on environmental law. She said that her deep knowledge of state and federal regulations, coupled with an ability to ensure compliance, makes her a valuable asset to the town. 

Brooks stressed a personal advantage – her status as a nearby resident – to position herself as a legal expert and a neighbor. She accentuated the special place in her heart that Orange Park fills and expressed eagerness to start the job the moment the decision is made. Brooks offered to commit to hosting office hours during the week if selected.

A nearby resident, Brooks spoke passionately of the town that holds a special place in her heart. She expressed her readiness to start the position immediately. She even asked for weekly office hours. Brooks positioned herself as not just a legal expert, but a neighbor. Spending a significant portion of her life in the community, Brooks is uniquely attuned to the town’s needs, she said.  Comment by Jack Randall: With Oct. 3 being the day the decision is revealed, shouldn't we report on the decision as it is decided in time for print?

The council selected Brooks.

“I talk about ‘shop local’ or ‘shop within the county.’ We would be hypocrites for not following our own recommendations,” said Mayor Randy Anderson before casting his vote. Doug Benefield agreed, saying that he found a ‘certain amount’ of value in Brooks. Alongside the mayor and the council member, Winette Sandlin concurred, saying that all three firms were qualified, but Brooks was her top choice at the final bell. “I’m going to give preference to the person that lives in the county. She’s here, she’s local, and she lives in our community. I think (Brooks) would be a good match,” she said.

Vice Mayor Susana Thompson and Council Member Daniel Cobriero voted against Brooks, instead siding with Vose Law Firm based on their larger staffing capabilities and 80 combined years of experience, much of which relates directly to municipal law.

Council members thanked all firms for participating, all of which were very well qualified, they said. Ultimately, Brooks from Fleming Island would end up taking home the prize, with her strong local presence and commitment to the community strongly swaying the final decision for officials.