By Douglas Moser
---- — METHUEN — An investigation into the city solicitor for sending a text message to a candidate to be his successor is in limbo after the City Council last night did not vote on the issue.
Councilor Tom Ciulla on Friday requested a police investigation into a text message solicitor Peter McQuillan sent to Richard D’Agostino while D’Agostino was interviewing before the city council for McQuillan’s job.
But a vote could not be taken because the city charter requires a 48-hour window between notifying an employee of a complaint and the initiation of an investigation.
“We need to get to the bottom of this,” Ciulla said. “I sent an email, a request to the chairman (Councilor Sean Fountain) that I wanted an investigation and that city solicitor should resign. He should just move on. He wasn’t even appointed. Unfortunately, that can’t be done under the charter.”
Fountain said last night that he notified McQuillan of the request for an investigation yesterday morning. He said McQuillan has not yet responded to the notice. The City Council met for its regular meeting last night.
Several councilors said before the meeting that while they thought McQuillan’s text was inappropriate, police involvement was not necessary. “I don’t think it’s something criminal,” said Councilor Jeanne Pappalardo. “Peter made a stupid mistake, and I think he just needs a reprimand from the council.”
Councilor Jamie Atkinson agreed. “What he did was wrong and in poor judgement, but not criminal,” he said.
During the meeting, the council did not discuss whether to pursue an investigation or a reprimand. They did vote against hiring D’Agostino 5-4, and then voted unanimously to start the whole process over with a reconstituted search committee.
Police Chief Joseph Solomon said yesterday that he has not received any request from the city for an investigation into the matter and did not want to comment on specifics. But he said generally speaking, he does not conduct investigations. They would be assigned to someone else in the department.
McQuillan defended the city against several lawsuits Solomon filed after he was fired in 2008. Civil Service eventually reinstated Solomon as chief, though the City Council had voted to cut his salary. On Thursday, the council voted to pay Solomon $100,001 to resolve a federal suit claiming his termination was retaliatory.
A Superior Court suit seeking back pay is still pending.
During his interview before the City Council March 26, D’Agostino was asked by Councilor Jamie Atkinson about a last-minute revocation by one his work references, Lawrence District Court Clerk Andrew Gradzewicz.
“This is news to me,” D’Agostino told the council.
McQuillan, who was watching a live Internet stream of the interviews from his home, sent a text message from his work cell phone to D’Agostino at 6:53 p.m.
“That’s a lie he tried to contact Gradzewicz today!!!!” McQuillan wrote.
In interviews last week, McQuillan admitted to sending the message. The wording of the text suggests that McQuillan may have meant to sent the message to a councilor, but he said he meant to sent it to D’Agostino.
After the text and D’Agostino and Ciulla’s call for an investigation, several councilors suggested that McQuillan should vacate his position, asking during last night’s council meeting whether an interim solicitor can fill in until a new solicitor is hired.
Mayor Stephen Zanni said the charter does not provide for an interim solicitor, and requires that the current solicitor stay in his post until a successor is appointed.
Follow Douglas Moser on Twitter @EagleEyeMoser. To comment on stories and see what others are saying, log on to eagletribune.com.