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April 27, 2014

As legal bills climb, Methuen still debates hiring a city solicitor

As legal bills climb, councilors spar over most cost effective approach for city's legal representation

METHUEN — The monthly legal bill for the city approached $20,000 for the first time in February as city officials remain deeply divided over the merits of keeping the private law firm on board versus hiring a city solicitor.

Boston firm Kopelman and Paige billed the city $19,188.52 for February, a month the mayor and police chief negotiated a final settlement and three-year contract, and the City Council met behind closed doors to discuss threatened litigation by former Health Director Brian LaGrasse.

Councilors again sparred over whether the private firm, which has represented Methuen since July, is more cost effective than hiring a city solicitor on salary as a search for a new attorney continues.

“Based on this $19,000 bill, we’re going to far exceed a solicitor,” Councilor George Kazanjian said.

The last city solicitor, Peter McQuillan, earned $113,144 when he left last year.

Methuen has spent $89,323.86 on Kopelman and Paige since July, according to city documents. That breaks down to an average of $11,165.48 per month over the last eight months and at that pace would total $133,985.79 over the course of a year.

Councilor Sean Fountain, who strongly supports keeping Kopelman and Paige and believes the firm will save the city money, said the cost of any solicitor, beyond salary, would include benefits like pension and health care.

He also pointed to this year’s legal budget, which included $176,000 for salaries.

“For $20,000 a month, it would probably come up to a savings” keeping Kopelman and Paige, Fountain said.

That salary budget also included a legal clerk, earning roughly $50,000, who is still on the payroll, however.

Additionally, the assistant city solicitor, Anne Randazzo, who also serves as director of human resources, continues to do legal work for the city, said Councilor Ronald Marsan, leader of the search for a new solicitor

“The Kopelman and Paige contract doesn’t even meet all our legal needs,” Marsan said.

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