By Brian Messenger
---- — METHUEN — Scrapping his prior plan for closed-door interviews, City Council Chairman Sean Fountain said the four finalists for the city solicitor job will instead be interviewed during a public meeting late next week.
Fountain announced the change yesterday after consulting with a representative from Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office. The Eagle-Tribune reported Tuesday that Fountain’s plan to conduct the interviews in executive session was a flagrant violation of the state’s Open Meeting Law.
Fountain is chairman of a six-member search committee overseeing the city solicitor hiring process. The committee violated the Open Meeting Law last week when members held a secret meeting to select the four finalists for the job.
Fountain said he was told by the attorney general’s office yesterday that once finalists are selected, the search committee can no longer legally interview job applicants in closed-door executive sessions.
Fountain said he also sought clarification on the interview process and Open Meeting Law this week from City Solicitor Peter McQuillan and Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin’s office. “I’m waiting for the two responses,” he said.
The search committee is expected to meet again either Monday or Wednesday. Fountain said the four finalists will be made public after the meeting. Job interviews before the full Council are expected to follow next Thursday or Friday, he said.
The search for a new city lawyer was triggered Jan. 7 when the City Council voted 5-4 against reappointing McQuillan to a two-year term.
A dozen people applied for the job and the search committee met for the first time Jan. 31 at City Hall, according to a meeting notice filed three days prior with the City Clerk’s office. But a notice for a second meeting held Feb. 6 was never filed or posted for the public to view.
The Open Meeting Law in Massachusetts requires that meetings of public bodies — including City Council subcommittees — be publicized 48 hours in advance.
Five of six search committee members attended the Feb. 6 secret session: city councilors Fountain, Jennifer Kannan and Lisa Ferry, and local lawyers Arthur Broadhurst and Bryan Chase. Fountain said the meeting was held at Broadhurst’s Methuen law office.
Absent from the meeting was Councilor Tom Ciulla. Yesterday, Fountain said he didn’t believe he was required to post a notice of the meeting because only three members of the City Council were expected to be in attendance.
It is believed the field of candidates was narrowed from 12 to eight at the first meeting and then down to four finalists at last week’s unpublicized meeting. Fountain said the search committee selected finalists through interviews and reference and background checks.