By Brian Messenger
---- — METHUEN — Two city councilors say they felt verbally threatened by local union leader Michael Gagliardi after they voted against his pick for city solicitor, an accusation Gagliardi denied yesterday.
In the weeks leading up to the April 1 vote, councilors Jennifer Kannan and Jamie Atkinson said they were each contacted multiple times over the phone by Gagliardi in an attempt to gain support for solicitor finalist Richard D’Agostino.
A motion to appoint D’Agostino to a two-year term as solicitor was defeated 5-4, with Kannan and Atkinson voting in the majority.
“What he said to me after was, ‘You let your friends down. I’m coming after you,’” said Atkinson, who is running for re-election this fall. “I don’t know what that means. I think it’s undue pressure. It’s not warranted and he’s out of line.”
Kannan intends to challenge Mayor Stephen Zanni’s re-election bid in the November election.
“He told me I was going down,” said Kannan when asked yesterday to describe Gagliardi’s threat. “I can’t understand why a labor leader would be lobbying Methuen city councilors for a non-laborer. It doesn’t make sense.”
Gagliardi is business manager for Laborers International Local 175, which represents 750 employees in 32 cities and towns across the Merrimack Valley, North Shore and Salem, N.H., including about 75 DPW workers and 10 School IT employees in Methuen.
Gagliardi is a Westford resident but works out of the Local 175 office on Union Street. Yesterday, Gagliardi said he contacted at least four councilors — Kannan, Atkinson, Sean Fountain and Tom Ciulla — in an effort to lobby for D’Agostino.
“I think Rick D’Agostino brought to the table what the city of Methuen needed to reunite the community and resolve some of the issues they’re facing,” he said.
Gagliardi said he got involved in the selection process because his union has regular interactions with the city solicitor. Gagliardi denied ever threatening Kannan or Atkinson, but said he did tell them both that the union would not be supporting them in the upcoming election.
“Certainly there were conversations,” said Gagliardi. “If there were threats they should report them to police.”
The three other councilors to vote against D’Agostino’s appointment — Jeanne Pappalardo, Lisa Ferry and Ron Marsan — each said yesterday they had no conversations with Gagliardi before the vote, although Marsan said Gagliardi sent an email to multiple councilors.
“It said to consider D’Agostino as a candidate,” Marsan said.
Atkinson said Gagliardi called him at least five times in one day leading up to the April 1 vote.
“He shouldn’t have had a horse in the race,” Atkinson said. “He shouldn’t have been involved at all. He was involved quite a bit and I don’t know what his motive was, except he’s friends with Mr. D’Agostino.”
One day after the vote, Gagliardi filed an Open Meeting Law complaint with the state Attorney General’s office against Kannan, Atkinson and Ferry. The three councilors met at a local Starbucks two days before the solicitor vote. Though five councilors are required for a quorum, Gagliardi said the meeting violated the “spirit and intent” of the Open Meeting Law.
Gagliardi has also targeted current City Solicitor Peter McQuillan. Councilors on Jan. 7 voted against reappointing McQuillan to a two-year term, but he has retained his post as Methuen’s top lawyer as the City Council works to find a replacement.
On April 19, Gagliardi filed a complaint against McQuillan with the state Ethics Commission.
In his complaint, Gagliardi claims McQuillan “clearly interfered” with the process to find his replacement by contacting D’Agostino’s professional references and asking them to withdraw their letters of recommendation, and by attempting to send a text message to a city councilor during D’Agostino’s March 26 job interview with the City Council.
The Eagle-Tribune has previously reported that McQuillan sent a text message to D’Agostino during the job interview. In response, The Eagle-Tribune requested and obtained McQuillan’s phone and email records, but not before McQuillan reviewed and redacted them.
In a followup letter sent Monday to the Ethics Commission, Gagliardi wrote that “we believe ... McQuillan began destroying public records, specifically the text messages off his city cell phone to obfuscate the investigation.”
“This conduct by a public employee running a city’s legal department is not only unconscionable and reprehensible but clearly, in our opinion, unethical,” wrote Gagliardi.
McQuillan declined comment last night when reached by phone.