EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

June 17, 2013

Methuen without a lawyer

By Douglas Moser
dmoser@eagletribune.com

---- — METHUEN — The city has been without legal counsel since June 1 because former solicitor Peter McQuillan is still on the payroll, meaning the firm the council already voted to hire cannot take over.

City officials said they cannot take McQuillan off the payroll until they receive a required document certifying when his last day on the city payroll will be and outlining the conditions of his vacation buyout. City Council Chairman Sean Fountain said his office has done everything required of it.

Mayor Stephen Zanni and Fountain are pointing fingers over who is holding up the process.

“The council at this point in time is dysfunctional,” Zanni said. “We’ve bee going back and forth for six months now.”

He said McQuillan has not submitted any documentation outlining the day he is to be taken off the payroll and how his buyout will take place.

City Auditor Thomas Kelly said McQuillan is still on the payroll, drawing down his accrued vacation. He said he cannot take McQuillan off the payroll, which would clear the way for the law firm Kopelman and Paige to take over at an hourly rate of $175, until he receives the document.

“Legally, if I just took him off I could find myself in jeopardy,” Kelly said.

If McQuillan allows his vacation to continue to draw down on the payroll, he would receive $49,780.69, Kelly said. If he were to take a buyout, he would receive $48,484.49.

At the last council meeting, Fountain told the council he signed off on an agreement allowing McQuillan to take June as vacation, potentially keeping him on the payroll for the entire month.

“I can’t get this done until I have an end date,” Zanni said.

Fountain provided The Eagle-Tribune an agreement dated May 31 that specifies McQuillan’s “attorney-client relationship” with the city of Methuen ended at 4:30 p.m. on May 31.

“Mr. McQuillan’s last day was May 31, according to this signed and witnessed agreement,” Fountain said in an e-mail to The Eagle-Tribune. “Mr. McQuillan planned on using vacation time before the agreement was signed. I have notified the auditor’s office and Mr. McQuillan also notified them, which at that time they would be calculating his buyout of accrued time. Prior to that, Mr. McQuillan requested use of accrued vacation time which he had available to him. The Auditor’s office has been notified on multiple occasions of his last date and departure, as well as Mr. McQuillan has been notified to vacate the office and return city property, which he has done.

“This office feels that all due diligence has been done in regards to Mr. McQuillan’s departure and notifying the proper departments in the city,” Fountain’s email states.

But Zanni said the agreement does not satisfy the state requirement and does not name the final date McQuillan is to be on the payroll and from which date a buyout should be calculated.

Councilors also are getting frustrated with the back and forth.

“I think what needs to be done is the two of them need to go into a room, shut the door and work out their differences so we can have legal representation in this city,” Councilor Jamie Atkinson said.

Councilor Jeanne Pappalardo tried to call a special meeting for Wednesday to iron out the issue, but the meeting was canceled after a councilor, Ron Marsan, reversed and withdrew his support for a meeting. Special meetings can be called by the chairman or at least three councilors.

She said the agreement with McQuillan should have been voted on by the council, rather than signed by the chairman without consultation.

“He doesn’t have the authority to enter into an agreement or contract,” she said of Fountain. “This whole thing has been mishandled.”

Marsan said a discussion can happen at the council’s regular meeting next Monday. Additionally, he said McQuillan’s status is not an issue because past employees have left with vacation payments.

“I feel if I called Kopelman and Paige as a city councilor they’d talk to me,” he said. “I feel we have representation.”

Zanni said he will not transfer $33,000 in funds requested by the council to pay Kopelman and Paige until McQuillan’s status is resolved and until a contract with the law firm is written outlining terms, responsibilities and fee schedules.

“We have contracts with all sorts of vendors, for the purchase of paper supplies to auditing,” Zanni said. “Why would we not have one with a firm that will be charging $175 per hour?”

After the council voted in January not to reappoint him and after a controversial search process in which he inserted himself, McQuillan stepped down as city solicitor on May 31.

A months-long search for his successor resulted in one of two finalists not winning the support of a majority of the City Council April 1. The other finalist did not receive a vote.

The council voted to start another search for a permanent replacement, but the job has not been posted. Kopelman and Paige was hired to represent the city in the meantime.

Follow Douglas Moser on Twitter @EagleEyeMoser.

To comment on stories and see what others are saying, log on to eagletribune.com.