EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

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April 3, 2013

Charges three city councilors held secret meeting

METHUEN — A city resident and union leader filed a complaint yesterday against three city councilors, charging them with violating the state’s open meeting law by discussing the city solicitor search Saturday.

Michael Gagliardi, business manager of the Laborer’s International Union Local 175, filed a letter with the City Council clerk saying Councilors Jennifer Kannan, Jamie Atkinson and an unnamed councilor met at the Starbucks in The Loop on Pleasant Valley Street Saturday to discuss “a strategy for the solicitor selection process” when the discussion should have happened at a public meeting.

The councilors called the charge of a violation unfounded.

“I feel like I’m being penalized for my vote (Monday) night,” Kannan said yesterday. “Was I surprised when I saw this? Absolutely. It absolutely doesn’t hold any weight whatsoever.”

On Saturday, Kannan, Atkinson and Councilor Lisa Ferry met at Starbucks, Kannan said. During coffee, Kannan said they discussed the Thursday special council meeting, where councilors voted to approve a $100,001 settlement with police Chief Joseph Solomon.

“It’s much ado about nothing,” Atkinson said.

Gagliardi, in his letter, said the conversation specifically was about “how to circumvent Councilor Ron Marsan, who they believed was working towards the reappointment of the current solicitor.”

Kannan said they did not discuss Marsan, though they talked about Atkinson’s suggestion at that Thursday meeting that solicitor Peter McQuillan be reappointed.

The council voted on Jan. 7 not to reappoint McQuillan, with several councilors voicing displeasure with the solicitor’s handling of several lawsuits against the city, including Solomon’s.

Gagliardi said yesterday that discussion of an issue as important to the city as hiring its lead attorney needs to be conducted in an advertised public meeting.

“It’s of critical importance for the taxpayers to hear the discourse,” he said. “If they were taking about one councilor meddling, the law requires them to do it in a public meeting.”

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