By Douglas Moser
---- — METHUEN — The city’s monthly legal bill topped $15,000 for the first time in January as the City Council begins to move forward with a search for an in-house solicitor.
January’s bill from Boston firm Kopelman and Paige was $15,321, according to city records, and is the highest bill so far. It brings the total spent on Kopelman and Paige to $70,283.
Mayor Stephen Zanni said legal issues include demands made by former health director Brian LaGrasse, whose position essentially was eliminated in the budget, and a vehicle that collided with a city plow.
“Then there’s things every day where departments are calling in, such as conservation issues, zoning issues, housing,” he said. “All those things are being done on a daily basis. Those are done by telephone, or they will sometimes come in for an issue that would take more than 15 or 20 minutes.”
The monthly average since July is $10,040. At that rate, the cost for the year would be $120,485. Former city solicitor Peter McQuillan earned $113,144 when the council in January 2013 voted not to reappoint him. That represents the first time the city’s legal bills are on pace to exceed McQuillan’s base salary.
City councilors, most notably Councilor Sean Fountain, have said that a city solicitor would cost more than the base salary, once pension and health insurance costs are factored in.
Additionally, Fountain has argued, McQuillan and past solicitors have had to hire outside attorneys with special expertise, adding substantially to the city’s legal costs beyond just the solicitor’s salary and benefits.
The City Council on Monday unanimously approved a committee of three councilors – Joyce Campagnone, George Kazanjian and Ron Marsan – to begin a search for a new solicitor. Marsan was named chairman of the committee.
Kopelman and Paige, which represents more than 100 cities and towns in Massachusetts, was hired last summer when a search failed to yield a solicitor. McQuillan stepped down last May.
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