EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 26, 2013

Deal or no deal?

By Brian Messenger
bmessenger@eagletribune.com

---- — METHUEN — Police Chief Joseph Solomon says he’s reached a legal settlement with Mayor Stephen Zanni — a claim the mayor denies.

Solomon told The Eagle-Tribune yesterday afternoon that he and Zanni agreed to settlement terms on Friday.

“I shook his hand on Friday on a compromise deal,” said Solomon. “I think it’s in the best interest of all parties, including the City of Methuen, that we move forward.”

Zanni responded yesterday by saying that while talks with the chief have progressed, the sides have yet to finalize a deal.

“I would say we got closer,” said Zanni. “There’s no signed document. I shook his hand. We’re getting closer, but I didn’t agree to anything.”

Zanni was scheduled to discuss settlement talks last night with the City Council in a closed-door executive session. The city and Solomon are also slated to appear in federal court today to update Judge Mark Wolf on the status of negotiations.

Hours before yesterday’s executive session, Zanni said he planned to present city councilors with both his latest settlement offer to Solomon and the chief’s counter offer, which the mayor said he received yesterday morning.

“My plan is to give councilors both proposals and see where they want to go with it,” said Zanni.

The executive session was scheduled to take place inside the city solicitor’s office at City Hall. No vote on the settlement was expected because the City Council was not scheduled to reconvene in open session after the meeting.

When asked yesterday about Zanni’s denial that a deal has been reached, Solomon said: “That’s inaccurate, because I sat in the room and shook the man’s hand. I don’t understand how he could say that.”

Solomon also declined to comment on any details of the alleged agreement.

“I really can’t discuss it,” said Solomon. “The only difference is the final dollar value and how it’s structured. Some people might think it’s a lot, some people might not. I think it’s in the realm of fairness to all parties.”

Lawsuits between the police chief and city stem from Solomon’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.

The chief filed a federal suit in May 2011, accusing former Mayor William Manzi and the city of “unconstitutional and retaliatory actions” for “illegally” firing him. The city has filed counterclaims against Solomon to recoup nearly $200,000 it repaid to the federal government. The city claims the chief did not fulfill contractual duties in overseeing federal grants.

City councilors indemnified Manzi 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.

Settlement negotiations between Zanni and Solomon began in April 2012.

Zanni recently hired the private law firm Murphy, Hess, Toomey and Lehane to represent the city and Manzi in the suit. The city and Solomon are slated to appear at 4:30 p.m. today for a scheduling conference at the John Joseph Moakley Courthouse in Boston.