By Brian Messenger
---- — METHUEN — The City Council will meet tonight with Mayor Stephen Zanni to discuss his $100,001 deal with the police chief that, if approved, will end a nearly two-year battle in federal court.
Councilors will convene at 6:30 inside City Hall to discuss the offer of judgement between Chief Joseph Solomon, the city and former Mayor William Manzi that will pay the chief $100,001 plus an undetermined amount of legal fees.
If approved by the council, the agreement would end Solomon’s federal lawsuit against the city and Manzi. The chief filed the suit in May 2011, accusing Manzi and the city of “unconstitutional and retaliatory actions” for “illegally” firing him in 2008.
According to tonight’s meeting agenda, the council will discuss the deal behind closed doors in Zanni’s office “if necessary.” But yesterday, Zanni told The Eagle-Tribune that the meeting should be held in open session.
“I don’t think there’s a need for executive session,” said Zanni. “The public should know.”
Zanni also said yesterday that the city intends to pay Solomon using cash reserves. But before agreeing to a deal, several councilors said they want to know the precise cost of the legal fees the chief will be owed.
“I’m curious about the legal fees,” said Councilor Joyce Campagnone. “We don’t have the agreement in front of us. We don’t have it in detail. ... I want everything on the table so the people know exactly, from A to Z, what’s happening.”
The first step toward an agreement came March 7 when the city submitted an “offer of judgment” to Solomon in which the city and Manzi “allow judgment to be taken against them” in the amount of $100,001 plus legal costs. Solomon agreed to the proposal Monday.
The agreement resolves all Solomon’s claims in the suit, “including without limitation any and all claims for compensatory and/or punitive damages, emotional distress, statutory damages, attorneys fees, litigation expenses and costs of this action.”
Still pending between Solomon and the city is a civil case in which the chief was awarded back pay. The city has appealed the decision.
Lawsuits between Solomon and city stem from the chief’s firing in 2008. The City Council also cut his $158,295 salary by $25,610 in 2007. Solomon returned as chief in 2010, after the state Civil Service Commission reduced his punishment to a one-year suspension. The city’s appeal of that decision was rejected by a judge in July.
City councilors indemnified Manzi in Solomon’s federal suit in September 2011, granting him personal legal protection in the suit because he acted “within the scope of his official duties” as mayor when he fired Solomon. Manzi served as mayor from 2006 to 2011.
Zanni began settlement negotiations with Solomon in April 2012. On Monday, Zanni said Solomon had previously sought damages as high as $480,000. Had the case gone to trial, Zanni said the cost of the city “could have gone up to $1 million.”
“I think he did a good job in negotiating this,” said Councilor Jeanne Pappalardo. “I think it’s good for the community. Not a lot of people are going to think that. We’re going to end this once and for all. We need to move on.”