EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 25, 2013

Solicitor candidate denies early interview

D'Agostino pens thank-you letter to council prior to start of search

By Brian Messenger

---- — METHUEN — The applications for city solicitor were still coming in and supposed to be under seal, but finalist Richard D’Agostino had already penned a letter thanking some city councilors for his interview, documents show.

“I truly appreciate the time, interest and courtesy extended to me during the interview and am honored to have been chosen to advance to the next phase of the interview process,” wrote D’Agostino in a letter dated Jan. 22 to City Council Chairman Sean Fountain. Applicants had until Jan. 25 to apply.

But D’Agostino last night insisted that the first time he met with any members of the search committee was Feb. 6, when applicants were interviewed during a secret session at local lawyer Arthur Broadhurst’s downtown law office.

“I had one interview in the office of Attorney Broadhurst,” said D’Agostino. “This is all much ado about nothing.”

D’Agostino, who was fired as assistant city solicitor in Lawrence, is one of two remaining finalists for Methuen’s top legal post. He and William Faraci of Haverhill will be interviewed in public by the full City Council tomorrow night at City Hall.

Two other finalists, Kerry Anderson and Robin Stein, abruptly dropped out of the running just days after their names were made public.

Last night, D’Agostino said his letter to Fountain was written March 5 but he inadvertently included the wrong date. The letter dated Jan. 22 to Fountain thanks him “and the selection committee for the opportunity to present myself for review and evaluation.”

D’Agostino said he wrote an original cover letter in response to the solicitor job opening on Jan. 22. He then used the original letter as a template to write the March 5 letter, but never changed the date, he said.

“It was an innocent mistake,” said D’Agostino.

Fountain did not return a call seeking comment for this story.

In late January, Fountain told The Eagle-Tribune that all solicitor job applications had been sealed in an envelope upon their arrival at the City Council office, and that the screening process was to begin in the coming days.

And last week, Fountain said the committee has only met three times — on Jan. 31, Feb. 6 and Feb. 26.

“You can ask anybody on that committee,” Fountain told a reporter. “There were only three meetings.”

D’Agostino, of Salem, N.H., was hired as assistant city solicitor for the city of Lawrence in 2005, but was fired from the post in April 2012 after returning from 16 months of medical leave. He has since sued the city in an effort to get his job back and collect $300,000 in damages, or the estimated balance of his work contract with the city.

Enclosed with D’Agostino’s letter to Fountain was his resume and a consent form authorizing the city to perform a background check. D’Agostino also wrote that he was “in the process of gathering reference letters to submit as required.”

According to Fountain, those references weren’t submitted to the City Council office until March 14 — or more than two weeks after D’Agostino was named one of four finalists for the job.

The search for a new city solicitor was triggered Jan. 7 when councilors voted 5 to 4 against reappointing City Solicitor Peter McQuillan to a two-year term. McQuillan will remain on the job until the council names his successor.

The solicitor opening was announced Jan. 11 and advertised in The Eagle-Tribune, The Boston Globe and on the city’s website. Twelve people applied for the job, which will pay between $87,390 and $113,144 per year.

Overseeing the hiring process is a six-person committee comprised of councilors Fountain, Jennifer Kannan, Tom Ciulla and Lisa Ferry and local lawyers Broadhurst and Bryan Chase.

Between six and eight applicants were interviewed during the Feb. 6 meeting at Broadhurst’s office, which violated the state Open Meeting Law because a public notice was never posted beforehand.

The Open Meeting Law in Massachusetts requires that meetings of public bodies — including City Council subcommittees — be publicized 48 hours in advance, even for closed-door executive sessions.

Search committee members also identified four finalists Feb. 6 but did not take a vote to confirm them. The committee then met Feb. 26 in a closed-door executive session at City Hall and releasing the names of finalists afterward.