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There’s a new firm in town that focuses on just that — towns. The firm that opened in November 2002 in Austin focuses almost exclusively on municipal law. That’s not surprising considering that the three partners in Bovey, Akers & Bojorquez formerly were attorneys on the Texas Municipal League staff. “We went to TML boot camp,” says Alan Bojorquez, who joined Monte Akers and Cary Bovey in starting the firm. “A number of law firms represent cities,” Akers says. “We’re the only one that has an all TML staff.” Bojorquez says he doesn’t know of another firm that depends on municipalities for so much of its client base. “Ninety-nine percent of our clients are municipalities,” he says. Most of the municipalities are small towns, many with populations of less than 5,000. The 52-year old Akers, former director of legal services at TML, says it was “almost serendipity” that the three partners got together to start the firm. After spending a decade at TML, Akers says that he was interested in returning to private practice. Akers says he contacted Bovey, a former assistant general counsel for TML who was practicing solo in Round Rock, Texas, about possible office space. He says that Bovey and Bojorquez, who also did a stint as an assistant general counsel at TML, already had been talking about starting a firm, and the three of them decided to join forces. “It just fell together — the right people, the right place, at the right time,” says Akers, who received his law degree from the University of Houston Law Center. Akers says that Bovey and Bojorquez had a “stable” of clients. Bovey, 38, a graduate of the University of Texas School of Law, says he was an associate with Sheets & Crossfield in Round Rock before he began practicing solo. Bojorquez, 35, a Texas Tech University School of Law graduate, was an associate with Austin’s Bickerstaff, Heath, Smiley, Pollan, Kever & McDaniel before he joined Akers and Bovey in the new firm. One of Aker’s areas of expertise while at the TML was utility issues, and he will get an opportunity to work on utility issues in the upcoming legislative session, which begins on Jan. 14. Akers, who was a registered lobbyist during his tenure at TML, will lobby on behalf of approximately 90 municipalities that formed the Texas Coalition of Cities for Franchised Utility Issues. When the Texas Legislature deregulated telecommunications in 1995, there was pressure to reduce cities’ authority over right of ways, and the cities he represents are concerned that similar pressure could be applied in the 2003 session, Akers says. According to Akers, Texas cities depend on franchise right-of-way revenue to provide anywhere from 5 percent to 20 percent of their annual budgets. The cities he represents in TCCFUI want to prevent the loss of any of their authority to manage the public right of ways, he says. Akers says some states have adopted a policy to grant free use of right of way to promote the development of utilities. But Texas is so dependent on its real estate to fund government that it’s always prized its right of way, he says. Having a utility come into Texas from another state that doesn’t charge for right of way access “creates a lot of tension,” he says. THE CITY ATTORNEY Much of the firm’s work involves serving as the city attorney for a number of smaller cities in Central Texas and other regions. Bovey says cities need legal advice on a wide range of issues — including how to comply with the state’s public information and open meetings laws and determining the liability risks if they want to hire police officers. Shortly before the firm was formed, Bovey guided the Bartlett City Council through a wage dispute with the city’s utility workers. Bartlett Mayor Janice Atchison says approximately 10 utility employees called a “sick out” — using their sick leaves to stay home from work — after the council approved a budget that provided a 10 percent pay increase for police department employees, but only a 5 percent raise for workers in the utility department. The trouble started shortly before the city’s 2003 budget was to take effect on Oct. 1, Atchison says. Bovey says the situation had to be addressed quickly because the utility workers in the Williamson County community refused to pick up the town’s trash. “Obviously, you don’t want garbage piling up,” he says. The council contracted with an outside waste hauler and also obtained assistance from the city of Holland until a compromise could be reached with the Bartlett utility workers, Bovey says. Under the compromise, Atchison says, the council agreed to provide a 7 percent raise for all city employees. Atchison says having a whole firm of lawyers to assist the council has been a good deal for the city. “They’re very knowledgeable,” she says. Akers says the firm’s client list also includes the communities of Weberville and Volenti, which are attempting to incorporate as cities and need legal advice to accomplish that goal. Bojorquez says working in a firm that specializes in municipal law has some advantages. It’s helpful to know that when he is out at a city council meeting, another attorney at the office will be available to help if one of his city clients calls, Bojorquez says. A bill passed by the Legislature in 2001 also has been helpful for the firm, Akers says. Under S.B. 695, a city that does not have an in-house city attorney may consult its outside counsel during a public meeting or an executive session through a teleconference call or the Internet. The firm represents a number of cities located in distant counties. Because of that change in the law, attorneys at the firm don’t have to be present at every city council meeting for a client city, Akers says. Akers says he and the other TML exes at the firm have a good relationship with the league’s staff and aren’t seen as competition. “We’re here to provide services that the TML staff can’t provide,” he says. “We’re thrilled to have them,” says Bennett Sandlin, one of TML’s two new legal services directors. While the lawyers at TML can point out the law to answer questions of the league’s approximately 1,065 member cities, they can’t serve as a city’s attorney, Sandlin says. According to Sandlin, TML’s legal staff fields about 1,200 calls a month from cities. “We have four full-time lawyers,” he says. “Normally we’re on the phone half the day.”

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