By Douglas Moser
---- — METHUEN — The City Council voted last night to begin another search for a city solicitor after a close vote against appointing one of the two finalists from the recent search.
Councilors voted 5-4 against appointing former Lawrence assistant city solicitor Richard D’Agostino, 58, capping a three-month process several officials said was flawed from the start after one round of interviews violated the state’s open meeting law and the current city solicitor, Peter McQuillan, inserted himself into the process by texting D’Agostino during D’Agostino’s interview before the council last week.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s a tainted process,” Councilor Jeanne Pappalardo said in an interview Monday. “That’s my main reason to go for a new search.”
Councilors Pappalardo, Jamie Atkinson, Lisa Ferry, Jennifer Kannan and Ron Marsan voted against hiring D’Agostino. The council did not take a vote on whether to hire the other finalist, former Haverhill assistant city solicitor William Faraci, 65.
Neither candidate had decided whether they would apply again during the new search. “I don’t know,” Faraci said. “I’ll have to talk to some councilors.”
D’Agostino said the decision would be up to the new search committee when it is appointed and decides how to accept applications.
The council voted unanimously to start a new search, form a new committee and scrap the current search committee, which consisted of council Chairman Sean Fountain, Councilors Ferry, Kannan and Tom Ciulla, and local lawyers Arthur Broadhurst and Bryan Chase.
Fountain, who chaired the search committee, said he would take requests from the councilors before appointing a new committee. A new job posting would be ready “hopefully in the next couple of days,” he said.
Councilor Michael Condon said before the vote the two candidates were due a vote for their willingness to endure the search and interview process.
New guidelines for a search, suggested by Councilor Jamie Atkinson, could be considered for the new committee.
Meanwhile, McQuillan, who did not attend the council meeting, will remain in his post nearly three months after the council voted not to reappoint him to a two-year term. The city charter requires the solicitor to remain in his position until a successor is appointed.
Councilors last night suggested they wanted McQuillan out by asking whether an interim solicitor could be appointed or whether the assistant city solicitor, Anne Randazzo, who doubles as the director of human resources, could perform the solicitor’s duties.
Mayor Stephen Zanni said the charter does not permit an interim solicitor.
The council voted against reappointing McQuillan, who has worked as city solicitor since 2005 and makes $113,144 per year, on Jan. 7 after expressing frustration with his handling of several lawsuits against the city.
An opening for the job was posted on the city’s website four days later and advertised in The Eagle-Tribune and The Boston Globe. Fountain said he would consider expanding advertising for the position, after getting 12 applications. He said the committee expected more than 50.
The search committee met behind closed doors Feb. 6 to interview candidates at Broadhurst’s office, but Fountain failed to advertise the meeting 48 hours in advance in accordance with state open meeting laws.
Four finalists emerged from the initial interviews: D’Agostino; Faraci; Robin Stein, an assistant city solicitor for Salem, Mass.; and Kerry Anderson, who was a labor relations attorney for the city of Boston when she applied.
Stein and Anderson withdrew their names early last month, but the council voted to proceed with just two finalists.
D’Agostino was hired as assistant city solicitor in Lawrence in 2005 but was blocked from returning to the post in April 2012 after 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.
Faraci has a law office in Haverhill and worked as assistant city solicitor for the city of Haverhill from 1977 to 2009.
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