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February 12, 2013

Solicitor search conflicts with law

METHUEN — The search for the next city solicitor appears to have run afoul of the state's Open Meeting Law.

At least two meetings were held to narrow the field of applicants down from 12 to four finalists, but it does not appear the meetings were publicized 48 hours in advance, as required by the state's Open Meeting Law.

While that is one violation, City Council Chairman Sean Fountain is at risk of two more violations of the law. He says he wants the entire City Council to interview the four finalists behind closed doors and that he will only release two of the four finalists' names prior to the March 4 vote - both flagrant Open Meeting Law fouls.

After a discussion with a reporter about the potential violation of conducting the finalists' interviews in secret, Fountain said, "I have to get an opinion on that."

"If that's the case, then that's what we'll do. I have no problem being open," said Fountain, who is chairing the solicitor search committee. "If that's the way the state wants us to conduct it, that's how we'll do it."

While the search committee to replace City Solicitor Peter McQuillan is allowed to meet behind closed doors to interview candidates, the Open Meeting Law in Massachusetts states that interviews cannot be held in secret session once the committee makes recommendations on finalists to the full City Council.

Fountain said yesterday he would identify the four finalists in a confidential memo to the full City Council. He said it was likely that only two names will be made public before a deciding vote on the hire is taken at the council's regular meeting March 4.

Once he identifies the four finalists to the council, all four names become public under the state's Open Meeting Law.

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