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September 1, 2013

Councilor stands behind health director cut

Fountain questions whether grant was run properly


Among the documents DPH won’t make public is a copy of the grant itself. According to an email from department spokeswoman Anne Roach sent Aug. 19, the information request “is being processed by our legal department.”

Further attempts to reach Roach for comment on this story were unsuccessful.

Both Zanni and Methuen Community Development Director William Buckley have said they have no knowledge about improprieties with the grant.

“I haven’t heard those questions and I’m not aware of anything being done improperly,” said Buckley.

Fountain said all his efforts to investigate how LaGrasse’s and Ewing’s work hours were spent were “hampered” by Buckley and the mayor’s office. Fountain said he was told his request to examine their payroll records would cost $2,500.

“I was met with a lot of obstacles,” said Fountain. “I inquired and my questions weren’t answered, as usual.”

Before the cuts were made, Fountain said councilors and city employees would call the department looking for LaGrasse, only to be told he and Ewing were tied up in a grant meeting or working outside of the city on grant-related projects.

“That’s what we heard all the time,” said Fountain. “Why are they working in another community when the Methuen taxpayers are paying their salaries? ... Methuen was getting the short end of the stick.”

The regional grant that created the Merrimack Valley Health District in 2012 was one of only five such awards statewide.

DPH sent Methuen a “notice of termination” for the grant on Aug. 7. An attempt in late August by Buckley and William Pillsbury, Haverhill’s director of planning and economic development, to salvage the grant was unsuccessful.

The health district will still be able to use $65,000 in unspent grant money already issued by the state.

Buckley said local officials will submit a proposal to use a large portion of that money to retain health inspector Rosemary Decie. Hired in May, Decie is paid $38 per hour as a consultant and typically works 24 hours per week, or one full day in each city. Buckley said Decie performs a variety of health inspections, ranging from septic systems to restaurants.

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