A cross-examination of Westport Town Attorney Ira Bloom
Published 8:01 pm, Thursday, November 18, 2010
If you have spent any time at Westport Town Hall during the last 30 years, you have probably seen Ira Bloom. Since 1981, he has served the town in a variety of roles including as RTM deputy moderator and chair of the Board of Education.
Professionally, Bloom has worked since 1978 as a lawyer for the Westport law firm Wake, See, Dimes, Bryniczka, Day and Bloom. That firm joined with Berchem, Moses, and Devlin in 2008. He also serves as the chair of the planning and zoning section of the Connecticut Bar Association.
In 1998, then-First Selectwoman Diane Farrell appointed Bloom to serve as town attorney. Since then, he and his colleagues at his firm have worked on a long list of cases for the town, including many related to land use and zoning.
Recently, Bloom advised the Representative Town Meeting on drafting new procedural rules for reviews of P&Z decisions. He also represents the town's Planning and Zoning Commission in an ongoing lawsuit related to the prospective construction of a new Family Y center at Camp Mahackeno.
Bloom, 57, sat down with the Westport News last week in his Imperial Avenue office to look back on almost 13 years as town attorney.
Why did you want to be town attorney?
I wanted to do it for several years, and this opportunity came up. A lot of what I had been doing was municipal-type law, land use, and zoning. Those were the areas I was practicing in, and I was interested in continuing that by representing the town.
I've always enjoyed municipal-type work and being involved with the community and town government. This was another way to do it. I may not be the longest-running municipal official, but I'm probably in the top handful since 1981.
What are the roles and responsibilities of the town attorney?
By charter, the town attorney is supposed to represent all the boards and commissions of the town and advise the town officials. In Westport, it's a particularly large job. A lot of it is land use-related, planning and zoning, and conservation issues. There's another component that is just managing the day-to-day activities that the town engages in -- contracts, easements, requests for proposals. And then there's general advice. I answer a lot of questions from town officials. They call me, they e-mail me, they stop me in the street. Occasionally, I get a call from someone who thinks that as the town attorney I am the attorney for everyone in town. This has actually happened many times. And they call thinking that they can get free advice about some personal issue. That we don't do.
What are some of the most important cases that you have worked on as town attorney?
Every major project that we've had in the last few years -- whether it's the schools, or the senior center, or the [proposed Mahackeno Family] Y -- has resulted in litigation. The schools -- Bedford Middle School and Staples High School -- were complicated and difficult zoning appeals that ultimately got resolved. But the schools are there obviously. The senior center was also an important appeal in which the town prevailed.
What are some of the most significant issues facing the town in the near future?
Clearly, the pension plans are a big issue for the town. Those are key issues going forward, as well as the percentage increases for salaries [of municipal employees and firefighters] in terms of what the town will find palatable. These are difficult financial times, and there's pressure on local governments across the country to find ways to save money and still provide the necessary services. That's probably the biggest challenge we're going to have over the next three or four or five years -- finding ways to save money and still manage to provide the services that people want.
How do you see your future as town attorney?
I still enjoy the work after 13 years. I would like to continue as long as the town will have me. The less litigation we have, probably the better I'm doing the job ironically. If you don't hear from me -- if I'm not in the paper -- that means I'm probably doing a better job, because there aren't as many controversies, and we're getting things done. The goal is to eliminate some disputes, minimize litigation, and provide good quality advice that will keep the town out of trouble and hopefully keep everyone working together.
What advice would you give to an aspiring town attorney?
This has been very rewarding for me to do this in Westport. But it's a lot of nights out, a lot of night work. If you don't like to go out at night, go into real estate law.