By Brian Messenger
---- — METHUEN — The recent retirement of a police captain has renewed the debate over staffing levels among the Methuen Police Department's top ranks.
Capt. Thomas Fram retired Oct. 31 after 34 years of service to the police department. Fram served as a captain alongside Randy Haggar, Kris McCarthy and Katherine Lavigne.
The four captains positions are the highest rank in the department under police Chief Joseph Solomon. There are also seven lieutenants and 12 sergeants, though two of the sergeant positions are currently vacant.
Solomon told The Eagle-Tribune yesterday that replacing Fram and retaining four captains is vital to the administration of the police department. The city budgeted $411,264 in base salaries for the four captains this year.
"There's a lot of administration to the police department," said Solomon.
But yesterday, Mayor Stephen Zanni said he does not intend to immediately fill the vacancy. The mayor also said he will consider staying with three captains instead of four in the fiscal year budget that begins July 1.
"Right now, I'm not filling that position," said Zanni, fresh of a convincing reelection victory on Tuesday. "At this point in time, I don't see filling that position at all. And I will review it come budget time."
Solomon said he intends to lobby Zanni in an effort to retain four captains.
"I will have that conversation with the mayor," said Solomon. "I would be opposed to not filling the position."
There have been several changes to staffing levels among top-ranked officers in recent years.
Solomon created the position of deputy chief in 2002 during a reshuffling of the department. But in the spring of 2008, Deputy Chief Joe Alaimo retired and Solomon was fired.
To fill Solomon's position, Lavigne was promoted from captain to chief. As a result, Fram was promoted from the rank of lieutenant to fill Lavigne's slot as one of four captains.
The deputy chief position has been left vacant since Alaimo's retirement and continues to be funded at $1 in the operating budget. Rather than promote a new deputy chief, Lavigne appointed Fram as executive captain.
In 2009, Capt. Edward Guy retired and the City Council did not fill the vacancy. That decision paid off in 2010, when Solomon returned as chief after the state Civil Service Commission reduced his firing to a one-year suspension.
With Solomon back as chief, Lavigne returned to her prior rank as captain.
Solomon said yesterday that the City Council last considered cutting the fourth captain position in May 2011. Such a move would have resulted in the demotion of Haggar to lieutenant, but the council never took action.
In addition to his role as executive captain, Fram oversaw the police department's community outreach bureau.
Haggar serves as commander of the internal affairs and professional integrity bureau. Lavigne is commander of the administrative services bureau and McCarthy is commander of both the support services and criminal investigation bureaus.
If city officials decide to fill Fram's vacancy, that could create a chain-reaction of promotions in the police force. A new captain will most likely be promoted from the rank of lieutenant, which could then create an opening for a sergeant.
Solomon said he also hopes to fill the two vacant sergeant positions sometime next year.
"It's all contingent on funding," said Solomon.