HAVERHILL — The City Council shut down one of Haverhill's two taxi companies for at least two weeks last night for a mysterious reason that was discussed in a secret meeting for almost 30 minutes.
"The evidence established a pattern that was so egregious that I'm compelled to deny the license due to the police recommendation," Councilor Michael Hart said after the council emerged from the closed-door session to vote in public.
Councilors were considering Dean Manemanus' application to renew his license for American Transportation Taxi Service.
"No clear law has been violated, but there's an established level of behavior," Councilor John Michitson said. "If we approve this license, we lose all credibility."
Last night's private meeting, known as an executive session, was the first time the council met outside public view in at least a decade.
Police Chief Alan DeNaro recommended the council deny Manemanus' taxi license for reasons outlined in a police memo that the city has refused to make public.
Instead of denying the license, however, the council voted 7-2 to postpone action for two weeks to give Manemanus an opportunity to resolve his dispute with police over how he has been running the business. Manemanus is not allowed to operate his cabs until the council resolves the matter one way or the other.
Councilors William Ryan and Mary Ellen Daly O'Brien said they wanted to reject the application last night.
Manemanus contacted The Eagle-Tribune before the meeting and said police were trying to shut him down because they have a vendetta against him. He also said he would provide the newspaper with a copy of the police memo that lays out the department's case against him.
But at the meeting, he refused a reporter's request for the document and declined to comment at all. His attorney, Paul Magliocchetti, said he does not believe police have a vendetta against his client.
As councilors debated Manemanus' license in the public portion of the meeting, the sentiment went from closing his business immediately to possibly suspending his license for a period of time or granting it for a probationary period.
That drew a strong rebuke from Ryan and then a heated exchange between Ryan and Maglioccetti, who is also a member of the School Committee.
"Attorney Magliocchetti is lobbying everyone in the room in the middle of this hearing and I take offense to that," Ryan erupted. "We have evidence to deny this but politicking is going on and I see where this is going."
Ryan was referring to Magliocchetti walking over to sit next to police Lt. Robert Pistone, who represented the Police Department in its position against Manemanus' cab company.
Magliocchetti responded to Ryan's comments by approaching the podium and saying he was offended by Ryan. Ryan told Magliocchetti to sit down, which he did.
Councilors also faulted police and the city ordinance that governs cab companies for some of Manemanus' problems.
"I'm concerned this pattern of mismanagement has been going on for years and I wish police did something before now," Councilor William Macek said. Manemanus has been running cabs in Haverhill since 2010.
Prior to their final vote, councilors voted 8-1 to discuss the matter behind closed doors, with Ryan the lone dissenter. The other councilors said they relied on a legal opinion from the city's outside counsel in opting to review the allegations against Manumanus in private.
"Where the licensing authority appropriately considers the results of a background or CORI (Criminal Offender Record Information) check as part of a hearing process, discussion in open session of the contents of such background or CORI check might potentially violate the applicant's privacy rights or potentially harm the applicant's reputation," reads the opinion from the Kopelman and Paige law firm.
The legal opinion noted, however, that was ultimately up to councilors whether they wanted to discuss any part of a license renewal in secret.
DeNaro previously said Manemanus' license expired in May, but that he has been allowed to operate under the license until the council acts on his renewal request.
Michele Randazzo, a lawyer from Kopelman and Paige, said that should not have been the case, however. She said the city's taxi ordinance states that a cab license is no longer valid after it expires.
The council's decision leaves Family Cab as the only taxi service in the city. That company operates about a dozen cabs, while American Transportation Taxi Service was licensed for two vehicles.