By Brian Messenger
---- — METHUEN — Richard D’Agostino told city councilors last night that corrupt politics led to his firing in Lawrence last year and that he is now the target of an “unfortunate whisper campaign” as he vies to become Methuen’s next city solicitor.
The City Council will soon appoint either D’Agostino or fellow solicitor finalist William Faraci to the city’s top legal post. Councilors interviewed both candidates last night at City Hall and then voted 5 to 4 to proceed with a deciding vote Monday night.
D’Agostino, 58, of Salem, N.H., is the former assistant city solicitor in Lawrence. He was fired in April 2012 after returning from 16 months of medical leave. Last night, D’Agostino wasted little time addressing the “baggage” from his prior job.
“If the baggage is that I stood up to a corrupt mayor ... then I’ll carry that baggage with honor,” said D’Agostino. “My record is impeccable and I’ll stand behind it.”
D’Agostino told councilors he will put politics aside as their solicitor and make decisions based on the law. D’Agostino said he “paid for that dearly” in Lawrence and was ultimately fired for taking such stands.
Following his firing, D’Agostino sued Lawrence 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. D’Agostino referred to the ongoing suit last night as “the other 600 lb. elephant in the room.”
He told councilors that if he wasn’t willing to stand up for his rights at his old job, he couldn’t come before them and say he’ll be willing to stick up for Methuen taxpayers.
“Someone needs to stand up and at least say, ‘No,’ to the reign of terror that’s gone on in Lawrence,” said D’Agostino.
Councilor Ron Marsan told D’Agostino he appreciated his speaking candidly about the medical leave and suit.
“Do you feel you can handle the stress here?” asked Marsan. “People have been talking about it.”
“There’s no question I can,” said D’Agostino. “I feel more than capable.”
Right before beginning his 16-month medical leave, D’Agostino said he was scheduled for more than 20 cases in a six-week period.
“I received no support,” said D’Agostino. “It was a physical impossibility to do what I did. And I cried out for help. ... Stress has never been something that has knocked me out of the ring.”
When asked if he would take his old job back in Lawrence if he wins the case, D’Agostino said he will only be able to collect monetary damages. D’Agostino said he hopes to one day retire as an city of Methuen employee.
While D’Agostino’s interview lasted about 45 minutes, Faraci’s took only 24 minutes.
The 65-year-old Haverhill resident and former assistant solicitor for the city of Haverhill is the son of a judge and the son-in-law of former Haverhill City Council President William Pike.
Faraci worked as Haverhill’s assistant solicitor from 1977 to 2009. He told councilors the position was eliminated for “purely budgetary” reasons and that he was able to work successfully with five different mayors over the course of 32 years.
“If I was able to serve under five mayors, I must have been doing something they appreciated,” said Faraci. “They saw fit to keep me on.”
Faraci said he is experienced in every aspect of municipal law and a “quick study” on new cases.
“I’ve had a very broad experience and a very long experience,” said Faraci. “I’m not going to take any long time of learning.”
Faraci said it will take him time to get familiar with “the culture of Methuen,” but being an outsider will help him provide sound legal advice.
“You need somebody that isn’t so tied to any group here,” said Faraci. “I can exercise independent judgement.”
When asked about potential time constraints given that he operates a private law firm, Faraci said he would “farm out” any work requiring litigation and cease taking on new cases. “But I’m still going to be doing my mother-in-law’s taxes,” he joked.
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.
Twelve people applied for the job, which will pay between $87,390 and $113,144 per year. Between six and eight candidates were interviewed at a secret meeting Feb. 6, a violation of the state Open Meeting Law.
Councilor Jeanne Pappalardo cited the Open Meeting Law violation last night before voting against moving forward with a deciding vote Monday. Were the motion defeated, the solicitor search would have been reopened to attract new applicants.
“I would like to go out for a new search,” said Pappalardo. “I think it’s the cleanest way to go. I think the process was flawed.”
Voting in the minority alongside Pappalardo were councilors Jamie Atkinson, Joyce Campagnone and Lisa Ferry. Atkinson said he will also put forward a motion on Monday to reappoint McQuillan.
During his interview, D’Agostino was told by Atkinson that one of his work references, Assistant Clerk Magistrate Andrew Gradzewicz, had officially rescinded his endorsement in a letter dated yesterday. No reason was given in the letter, which Atkinson read aloud.
“This is news to me,” said D’Agostino, who said he’s known Gradzewicz for 40 years.
D’Agostino also referenced Monday’s story in The Eagle-Tribune about his Jan. 22 letter to Fountain thanking him for a job interview. The date of the letter indicated D’Agostino was interviewed well before other applicants.
D’Agostino has 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 a second March 5 letter, but never changed the date, he said.
“I didn’t meet with the subcommittee prior,” D’Agostino said last night. “If you can chide me for anything, it’s for not proofreading the letter.”